An ocean of possibilities on Mars

Thu, Feb 9, 2012, 00:00

SMALL PRINT:COULD MARS have harboured an ocean?

Findings highlighted this week by the European Space Agency appear to add weight to the evidence.

The Marsis radar aboard ESA’s spacecraft Mars Expresshas detected sediments “reminiscent of an ocean floor” on the red planet, according to the agency’s website.

The findings suggest that the northern plains of the planet are covered in a low-density material.

“We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich,” says researcher Jérémie Mouginot from the Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble and the University of California, Irvine. “It is a strong new indication that there was once an ocean here.”

Details are published in Geophysical Research Letters, where the researchers state: “We conclude that the northern plains are filled with remnants of an ocean.” The sediments highlighted by radar fall within the boundaries of previously identified features that could be ancient shorelines, notes the ESA website.

It’s not the first time evidence for water on Mars has come up, and there’s plenty left to figure out.

“Previous Mars Express results about water on Mars came from the study of images and mineralogical data, as well as atmospheric measurements. Now we have the view from the subsurface radar,” says Olivier Witasse, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist.

“This adds new pieces of information to the puzzle but the question remains: where did all the water go?”