Science

Scientists identify ancient seafloor deposits on Mars's Eridania basin

Observations by MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) provided the data for identifying minerals in massive deposits within Mars' Eridania basin.

"It is evocative of the deep-sea hydrothermal environments on Earth, similar to environments where life might be found on other worlds, life that doesn't need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat and water", explained Niles, as quoted by The Daily Mail.

The Eridania basin is believed to have held a sea about 3.7 billion years ago, with seafloor deposits likely resulting from the underwater hydrothermal activity.

Scientists have known for some time that Mars once had lots and lots of water - in fact, some of it is still there - but exactly where it existed on the planet has been pretty hard to figure out thanks to billions of years of surface erosion. The availability of exposed crust from that time on Mars, which likely had similar conditions at the time, is what has excited the researchers.

"This site gives us a compelling story for a deep, long-lived sea and a deep-sea hydrothermal environment". Researchers believe extraterrestrial life may have emerged there once and those underwater volcanoes led to the formation of minerals collecting on the bottom of the seafloor.

Currently, there is no water on Mars. The Eridania Sea would have been the largest body of water on Mars, containing as much as all other lakes and seas on Mars combined.

It is believed that similar undersea hydrothermal environments led to the source of early life on Earth at about the same time.

But even if Mars never hosted living organisms, its colossal lake could still help inform researchers painting the picture of life's origins here on Earth. And since the geology of Earth has changed dramatically since then, looking at Mars may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth.

Scientists have previously observed signs of hydrothermal activity inside Europa, one of Jupiter's icy moons, as well Enceladus, one of Saturn's 62 moons. Now, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has discovered one place on the red planet that held a whole bunch of the life-giving liquid: an incredibly massive lake that, during its peak, held ten times the amount of water of all the Great Lakes, combined. The hydrothermal deposits could be identified due to the texture and shape of the bedrock layers. After the disappearance of the sea now thrives a lava flow in the area. The researchers cite these as evidence that this is an area of Mars' crust with a volcanic susceptibility that also could have produced effects earlier when the sea was present.

The evidence provided in the new report diversifies our understanding of the different types of wet environments that have existed on Mars, including rivers, lakes, deltas, seas, hot springs, groundwater and volcanic eruptions.



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