Ancient Mars looked very different from today’s parched, crimson landscape. Around 3.7 billion years ago, the planet may have had enough surface water to fill an ocean or burry much of it in ice. Ancient water may have been frozen into thick ice sheets blanketing the landscape. Imprints of flowing material on the surface would then be the result of seasnal warming and geothermal activity leading to melting. Mars polar ice caps expand and contract with the pllanet’s seasons. It’s unknown how far they once reached. In july 2018 scientists argued for for the existence of a 12-mile-wide subsurface lake using radar evidence from a european mission. About 3 billion years ago, moisture began reacting with iron in Mars’s powdery soil, creating it’s red hue. As solar wind eroded the atmosphere, most water was lost to space. The rest is buried under the surface or locked in polar ice caps.
It’s important to note that while these findings are intriguing, direct evidence of flowing water has been challenging to obtain. The harsh conditions on Mars, including its extremely low atmospheric pressure and frigid temperatures, make the existence of stable liquid water on the surface a complex issue. Scientists continue to study and analyze data from Mars missions and rovers to gain a better understanding of the potential presence of water, its behavior, and its implications for the possibility of past or present life on the planet.
Scientists have gathered evidence suggesting that liquid water might exist in certain conditions on Mars, but the exact nature and extent of this water are not fully understood. Here’s a summary of the situation up to that point:
Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL): These are dark, narrow streaks that appear on Martian slopes during warm seasons and fade during cooler seasons. They were discovered in 2011 and have been interpreted as possible evidence of briny water flowing just beneath the surface. However, alternative explanations, such as dry flows of granular material, have also been proposed.
Briny Water Reservoirs: Researchers have detected hydrated salts on the Martian surface, which could potentially lower the freezing point of water and allow it to remain liquid for brief periods under specific conditions. These salts, known as perchlorates, could potentially create a briny solution capable of supporting liquid water.
Underground Aquifers: Some scientists have suggested the possibility of large underground aquifers or reservoirs of briny water deep below the Martian surface. These reservoirs, if they exist, could provide a potential habitat for microbial life.
Seasonal Changes: The presence of liquid water on Mars would likely be highly dependent on seasonal changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure. During certain times of the year and at specific locations, conditions might allow for temporary flows of liquid water before it either freezes or evaporates.
Where Did the Mars’s Water Go?
Mars, often seen as a barren and dusty world, hides a remarkable secret from its past.
The question of what happened to the water that once existed on Mars is a subject of ongoing scientific research and debate. Here are some of the leading theories:
Billions of years ago, around 4.1 to 3.8 billion years back, Mars boasted a colossal ocean named Oceanus Borealis, stretching across its northern reaches. Unique conditions allowed liquid water to thrive on the surface. As time passed, shifts in climate, temperature, and the planet’s geology nudged this water skyward or deep underground.
Understanding the fate of water on Mars is a complex puzzle that requires combining data from various missions, rovers, and orbiters to build a comprehensive picture of the planet’s history and evolution. Ongoing and future missions, such as the Mars Perseverance rover and upcoming landers, will continue to provide valuable insights into this intriguing question.
Remarkably, a staggering 99% of this oceanic treasure now lies ensnared within the planet’s rocky layers, nestled within special rocks known as hydrous minerals.
Escape to Space: Mars’ thin atmosphere and lower gravity compared to Earth make it more susceptible to water vapor escaping into space. Over time, a significant amount of Mars’ water may have been lost through a process called atmospheric escape. This occurs when water molecules in the atmosphere are broken apart by solar radiation and the hydrogen atoms escape into space.
Surface Evaporation and Sublimation: Mars’ surface conditions, with its low atmospheric pressure and cold temperatures, can cause water ice to directly sublimate (change from solid to vapor) without melting. Sublimation and evaporation from the surface could have contributed to the loss of water over geological time scales.
Sequestration in Minerals: Water could have been incorporated into minerals in the Martian crust, essentially becoming chemically bound and locked away in the rocks. This process, known as hydration, involves water molecules bonding with minerals, and it could have contributed to the removal of water from the Martian environment.
Underground Reservoirs: It’s possible that significant amounts of water are still present on Mars but in underground reservoirs or aquifers. These subsurface water stores, if they exist, could play a role in the planet’s hydrological cycle and potentially be important for future human exploration.
Polar Ice Caps: Mars has polar ice caps composed of water ice and frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice). While much of the water at the poles is in the form of ice, it’s thought that there might be some seasonal variations where a small fraction of the ice becomes transiently liquid during certain times of the year.
Ancient Climate Change: Mars’ climate has changed over billions of years. It’s possible that in the distant past, Mars had a thicker atmosphere and a more temperate climate that allowed liquid water to flow on the surface. Changes in the planet’s atmosphere and climate could have led to the freezing and loss of surface water.
Hydrogen Locked in Minerals:Hydrogen from water could be chemically locked in the mineral structures of the Martian surface, contributing to the planet’s overall water budget.
Mars’ Ancient River Systems Could Have Once Thrived Across Eons
We all know Mars as a dry and dusty place today, with only tiny bits of water here and there. But when we look at the rocks on Mars, they tell us a different story. They show us that there used to be lots of water there, making valleys and river pebbles.
Scientists used to think this watery time was short, but a recent study suggests something new. It hints that Mars’ rivers might have lasted much longer than we thought, surprising everyone.
Scientists have found something surprising about Mars’ old river channels. These channels are wider than similar ones on Earth today. Even more interesting, water flowed through these big channels all over Mars about 2 to 3.4 billion years ago. This was a time when Mars was drying up.
We used to think Mars went from warm and wet to cold and dry. But now we know it’s not that simple. Kathryn Steakley from NASA explains that Mars’ climate story is more complicated than we thought.
When we hear about water on Mars, we get excited because where there’s water, there might have been life. But before we start imagining Martian creatures, we need to remember that we still have a lot of questions. We don’t fully understand what was happening during this time on Mars and how rivers could exist with the changing conditions.
Dal Bahadur Phadera is the founder of PhaderaWorldWide, dedicated to driving global change and social justice. With a passion for eradicating poverty and promoting equity, Phadera leads efforts to empower communities, provide education, healthcare, and sustainable livelihood opportunities. Phadera has been a renowned and influential blog writer since 2010. Over the years, they have published numerous websites and contributed as a guest writer to various blogging platforms. Their expertise spans across diverse categories, showcasing their remarkable writing capabilities. Through collaboration and advocacy, Phadera envisions a world where everyone can thrive and fulfill their potential.