Once it became clear in the past decade that the surface of ancient Mars, the inevitable question arose regarding what happened to it all since the planet is today so very dry. And the widely-accepted answer has been that the water escaped into space, especially after the once thicker atmosphere of Mars was stripped away.
But NASA-funded research just made public has a new and bold and very different answer: Much of the water that formed rivers, lakes and deep oceans on Mars, the research concludes, sank below the planet’s surface and is trapped inside minerals in the planet’s rocky crust.
Since early Mars is now thought to have had as much surface water as half of the the Earth’s Atlantic Ocean — enough to cover most of Mars in at least 100 meters of water — that means huge volumes of water became incorporated into the molecular structure of clays, sulfates, carbonates, opals and other hydrated minerals.
While some of the early water surely disappeared from Mars via atmospheric escape, the new findings, published in the latest issue of Science, conclude that atmospheric loss can not account for much or most of its water loss — especially now that estimates of how much water once existed on the surface of the planet have increased substantially.
“Atmospheric escape doesn’t fully explain the data that we have for how much water actually once existed on Mars,” said Eva Scheller, lead author and a doctoral candidate at the California Institute of Technology. The rate of water loss was found to be too slow to explain what happened.
Scheller and others at Caltech set out to find other explanations. Based on modeling and data collected by Mars orbiters, rovers and from meteorites, they concluded that between 30 and 99 percent of that very early Martian surface water can now be found trapped in the minerals of the planet’s crust.
As described in a release for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team studied the quantity of water on Mars over time in all its forms (vapor, liquid, and ice) and the chemical composition of the planet’s current atmosphere and crust through the analysis of meteorites as well as using data provided by Mars rovers and orbiters. … Read more