Science

Study finds traces of ancient ‘megafloods’ on Mars

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on November 23, 2020 Published on November 23, 2020

The structures show these flowed at the bottom of Gale Crater about 4 billion years ago

Researchers have found evidence of ancient megafloods on the Gale Crater on Mars, according to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

An analysis of data collected by NASA’s Curiosity rover as part of a joint project by scientists from Jackson State University, Cornell University, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Hawaii shows that the Gale Crater on Mars’ equator was washed through by a megaflood around four billion years ago.

“We identified megafloods for the first time using detailed sedimentological data observed by the rover Curiosity,” said co-author Alberto G Fairén, a visiting astrobiologist in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Deposits left behind by megafloods had not been previously identified with orbiter data.”

Also read: Study suggests presence of water on Mars 4.4 billion years ago

The flood has left various “tell-tale geologic structures” on the surface of the Red Planet familiar to scientists on Earth. Researchers have observed giant wave-shaped features in sedimentary layers of the crater, often called “megaripples” or antidunes.

The structures are nearly 30 feet high and are spaced approximately 450 feet apart, according to lead author Ezat Heydari, a professor of physics at Jackson State University.

According to Heydari, these structures indicate that megafloods were flowing at the bottom of Mars’ Gale Crater about four billion years ago as these features are identical to the features formed by melting ice on Earth about two million years ago.

According to the study, the flood was likely caused by the melting of ice due to heat generated by a large impact, which released carbon dioxide and methane from the planet’s frozen reservoirs. The team has already established that Gale Crater once had persistent lakes and streams.

This indicates that the crater, along with Mount Sharp located within it, was capable of supporting microbial life.

Also read: US official hints at nuclear-powered rocket for NASA’s Mars mission

“Early Mars was an extremely active planet from a geological point of view,” Fairén said. “The planet had the conditions needed to support the presence of liquid water on the surface ― and on Earth, where there’s water, there’s life.”

“So early Mars was a habitable planet,” he said. “Was it inhabited? That’s a question that the next rover Perseverance ... will help to answer,” Fairén added.

NASA’s Perseverance, which was launched on July 30, is scheduled to reach Mars on February 18, 2021.

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Published on November 23, 2020
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