Mars isn’t a cold, dusty planet, according to a recent discovery by scientists.
There had been previous observations which showed that the planet was once submerged in water that had slowly vanished below the surface. But these new findings published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets shows a piece of first direct evidence pointing to a groundwater system in the planet.
The observations were recorded by the Mars Orbiter spacecraft controlled from the European Space Agency. The spacecraft which was officially launched in 2003 and equipped with high-resolution cameras, was constantly roaming the uninhabited planet and taking pictures of the Martian surface.
Francesco Salese with fellow researchers from the University of Utrecht, studied the 24 deep craters in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars, searching for evidence that water had once flowed there.
Salese noted that Mars in the early ages was a water world, but due to planetary climate change, the water had resided beneath the surface, forming pools and groundwater.
From the images, the craters showed a vast variety of features ranging from terraces created by standing water, precipitated valleys created by erosion, to the presence of coastal lines.
In 15 of the 24 craters, they discovered evidence of delta which was formed by slowly moving sludge from water. They also found geological remains of water activity between 4,000 and 4,800 meters.
The researchers had spent two years examining the spacecraft’s data before deducing that a 12-mile-wide and a mile-thick reservoir lies below the ice in an enclosure in the Martian’s south pole. The researchers could not specify how deep the reservoir was, in order to identify if it was just a layer of sludge, an underground pool or an aquifer.
While the planet is known for its coldness, the water reservoir may have been kept from freezing by dissolved salts.
Dmitri Titov, a project scientist with Mars Express noted that these findings were important and could lead them towards identifying if regions of the planet that once harboured past life.