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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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When Mars Was Wet

When Mars Was Wet

Mars crater glacier, artist concept (credit: NASA)

The ice caps on Mars are made of water with seasonal carbon dioxide crusts. New photographic and radar discoveries are showing that Mars was not only wet in the past, but could be in the future, and may be at present. Large bands of glacial ice have been discovered in both the northern and southern hemispheres. This is a big change in understanding of contemporary Mars environments.


      Radar detected belts of buried glacial ice, Mars (credit: NASA/JPL)

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has provided recent images showing that glaciers exist in belts surrounding the planet in both the northern and southern hemispheres. According to NASA, data from the spacecraft's ground-penetrating radar also showed that that buried glaciers extend for dozens of miles from edges of mountains or cliffs. The ice is covered by dust but it can get exposed when punctured by meteor strikes. A layer of rocky debris blanketing the ice may have preserved the glaciers as remnants from when an ice sheet covered middle latitudes during a past Martian ice age. The discovery is similar to glaciers that are detected under rocky coverings in Antarctica.


             Meteor exposed ice covered by dust & debris, Mars (credit: JPL)  

Using MRO radar measurements of Mars, researchers with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have determined that enough water exist as buried glaciers. Under a warmer Martian climate, the melted water would create an ocean more than a meter deep over the entire planet. Additionally, JPL's Curiosity rover has gathered data showing that Mars may even have a contemporary hydrologic cycle. Salts in the Martian soils act as absorptive materials allowing a briny water to remain liquid at night even at the low atmospheric temperature and pressure on the planet. The water evaporates from the soil back into the atmosphere as the sun rises.


  Potential hydrologic moisture, Newton Crater on Mars  (credit: NASA)

Seasonally liquid water, most likely also saline, has been observed seeping from south facing canyon walls during spring and summer months on Mars not unlike similar seeps from canyon walls in the southwestern USA. Piecing together a series of photographs from Newton Crater over an entire season has produced a dynamic animation of this Martian crater seepage in progress.

Mars may be mostly a dry desert today but once it was far wetter and recent data now shows that it is still wet in places. These would be the locations to look for any current biology. It is often said: follow the water. WHB


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