Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

At SciTech Daily: Traces of Ancient Ocean Discovered on Mars – This Means a “Higher Potential for Life”


Penn State University researchers write:

New evidence for an ancient northern ocean on Mars has been uncovered in a recently released set of topography maps. These maps offer the strongest case yet that the planet once experienced sea-level rise consistent with an extended warm and wet climate, which was far different than the harsh, frozen landscape that exists today.

Curiosity's View Greenheugh Pediment
Stitched together from 28 images, this view from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover was captured after the rover ascended the steep slope of a geologic feature called “Greenheugh Pediment.” In the distance at the top of the image is the floor of Gale Crater, which is near a region called Aeolis Dorsa that researchers believe was once a massive ocean. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

“What immediately comes to mind as one the most significant points here is that the existence of an ocean of this size means a higher potential for life,” said Benjamin Cardenas, assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State and lead author on the study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. “It also tells us about the ancient climate and its evolution. Based on these findings, we know there had to have been a period when it was warm enough and the atmosphere was thick enough to support this much liquid water at one time.”

Whether Mars had an ocean in its low-elevation northern hemisphere has long been debated in the scientific community, Cardenas explained. Using topography data, the research team was able to show definitive evidence of a roughly 3.5-billion-year-old shoreline with substantial sedimentary accumulation, at least 900 meters (3,000 feet) thick, that covered hundreds of thousands of square kilometers.

Using software developed by the United States Geological Survey,  the research team generated the maps with data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter. They discovered over 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) of fluvial ridges and grouped them into 20 systems to show that the ridges are likely eroded river deltas or submarine-channel belts, the remnants of an ancient Martian shoreline.

On Earth, the ancient sedimentary basins contain the stratigraphic records of evolving climate and life, explained Cardenas. If researchers want to locate a record of life on Mars, an ocean as big as the one that once covered Aeolis Dorsa would be the most logical place to start.

“A major goal for the Mars Curiosity rover missions is to look for signs of life,” Cardenas said. “It’s always been looking for water, for traces of habitable life. This is the biggest one yet. It’s a giant body of water, fed by sediments coming from the highlands, presumably carrying nutrients. If there were tides on ancient Mars, they would have been here, gently bringing in and out water. This is exactly the type of place where ancient Martian life could have evolved.”

The stratiographic analysis these researchers carried out to show records of large waterways on Mars is certainly interesting and valuable science. But, to borrow a phrase, what immediately comes to mind as one of the most significant points here, is that to assume that the existence of surface water on a planet can somehow naturally lead to life is to depart from the realm of established science.

@ Jerry There's a wealth of information out there if you are at all curious. Are you afraid to look in Galileo's telescope? Alan Fox
For Jerry, maybe start here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_escape Alan Fox
Why would it have allowed liquid water then and not now? What changed?
Vapour pressure. Alan Fox
"Have we all just read too many science fiction stories?" There is no doubt there is a steep hype angle on the conveyor belt. "Life on Mars" means exciting tales and a revenue stream. Andrew asauber
So when was Mars mass different? Why would it have allowed liquid water then and not now? What changed? jerry
My understanding is it can’t. I may be wrong but the mass of Mars would dissipate any liquid water into atmosphere and space or just turn it immediately into ice. So no oceans nor rivers.
This is so now. The atmosphere is too thin to allow liquid water to accumulate. It can exist now on Mars only as ice or vapour. The question is, was it always so. Circumstantial evidence from geological formations that look eroded by water and the possibility of Mars having lost a previously denser atmosphere due to insufficient gravity for its retention suggest there was liquid water on Mars in the distant past. Alan Fox
My point is can liquid water have ever existed on Mars surface at any temperature at any place and time? My understanding is it can’t. I may be wrong but the mass of Mars would dissipate any liquid water into atmosphere and space or just turn it immediately into ice. So no oceans nor rivers. Have we all just read too many science fiction stories? jerry
If a small puddle of water ever existed on Mars, how long would it last?
Do you not think it would depend on a large number of variables making it impossible to answer? The geological features mentioned in the OP are circumstantial evidence that liquid water was involved.
A large puddle? A pond size body of water? Any body of water?,
Circumstantial evidence is there that at least one sea existed.
What would replace it?
Nothing. I find this a very odd question. Circumstances allowed the bulk of liquid water to escape Mars altogether though some remains at the poles as ice, which appears to sublimate and deposit (reverse of sublimation) with Mars seasons. Look up triple point of water if you are curious. Alan Fox
Jerry at 6, As the story goes, Mars started out quite Earth-like, but it's smaller than Earth and it began to become drier. Some water combined with surface iron and turned to rust, the rest retreated underground or turned to water ice. Some water, and carbon dioxide ice exists at the poles. Any body of water would freeze immediately today. Mars is quite cold. https://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/earlymars2012/reprintLibrary/Baker_2006.pdf relatd
The article mentions possible tides on ancient Mars, but don't you need a fair-size moon to produce significant tides? Because Mars is smaller and further from the sun than Earth, any tides due to the sun would be very small, I expect. And Phobos and Deimos are presumably not big enough to raise any tides, even together. Do those "Penn State researchers" know something I don't, or is this just another empty gloss? Fasteddious
If a small puddle of water ever existed on Mars, how long would it last? A large puddle? A pond size body of water? Any body of water? What would replace it? jerry
Andrew at 4, No other liquid like water. Magma flows from volcanoes leave other distinctive signs. Water, in general, has some mineral content. relatd
"Like what?" Relatd, Something besides just water? Andrew asauber
Andrew at 2, Like what? Water leaves distinctive markings in soil. These markings have been found. It does indicate that Mars had liquid surface water in the past. Today, some of that water is just below the surface as water ice, and some is underground as liquid water. relatd
Could it have been a liquid other than just water? Andrew asauber
Yes, this departs from established science and into the realm of fantasy, If water = life then scientists should be making it in the lab today. relatd

Leave a Reply