Evidence Of Megafloods Found On Mars Found By Curiosity Rover
We know Mars as a dry, red, metallic wasteland. But four billion years ago, catastrophic megafloods were sweeping across the planet, according to a new discovery.
Images sent back by the Curiosity rover have previously shown large channels and wave-like ‘mega-ripple’ formations on Mars’s surface, suggesting that the planet had seen massive flooding in the past similar to that experienced on Earth 2 million years ago. Now, data gathered by the rover has shown scientists the true scale of the mega-floods that swept through the planet’s Gale crater.
Researchers from Jackson State University, Cornell University, the University of Hawaii and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used cameras on-board the rover to take images of rocks and minerals in the crater, discovering sediments that were deposited by gigantic flash floods that occurred after the crater first formed, causing mega-ripples up to 30ft high. Results from the project were recently published in the journal Nature.
Alberto G. Fairen, co-author of the study, told The Cornell Chronicle:
We identified megafloods for the first time using detailed sedimentological data observed by the rover Curiosity.
Deposits left behind by megafloods had not been previously identified with orbiter data.
Thanks to the data, as per Engadget, the team now believe that the floods were caused by a huge impact from a meteor that sent temperature soaring on the planet, causing massive amounts of ice to melt. The impact released carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, which, combined with water vapour from the ice melting, created a temporary climate both warmer and wetter than the planet was used to.
The result? Torrential rains throughout the planet. This was particularly devastating in the Gale crater region, with water flowing off Mt. Sharp – the central peak in the crater – creating the huge floods that left behind the sediment scientists can see today.
The discovery is yet another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that NASA is putting together to try and find out whether life once existed on Mars. Curiosity, which is exploring the Gale crater, will be joined on Mars next year by another rover – Perseverance – which will study the Jezero crater for signs of any ancient life that may once have called the planet home.
And according to Fairen, the floods could be significant in helping us answer the question.
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.
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