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Mars Once Had An Ocean With 20 Million Cubic Kilometers of Water

Results generated from a NASA study suggests that soon after it was created around 4.5 million years ago, Mars once was a wet and warm planet with an ocean much bigger than our own Arctic ocean, holding around 20 million cubic kilometers of water.

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Photo credits: NASA/GSFC

The findings of a study led by NASA scientists suggest that once upon a time, 4.3 million years ago, planet Mars contained so much water that would correspond to it being entirely covered with the water in a layer of around 137 meters deep. This water would have constituted an ocean encompassing more than 50 % of the northern hemisphere of the planet. According to the calculations of the researchers, it would be more than 1.6 kilometers at its deepest.

More importantly, this might be a sign of life on Mars at some point in time.

The lead researcher of the study, Geronimo Villanueva, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, said in a press release:

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space. With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

Furthermore, it seems that Mars used to be a warm and wet planet in its early years, with streams, river deltas, lakes all over it.

It was previously revealed that water must have been present on planet Mars in the past; the sandy desert plains found on the planet still bear swirling marks suggesting that water was part of the environment there. What has remained a mystery was the quantity of water on Mars. With the help of the world’s most powerful infrared telescopes, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope located in Chile, and the W.M. Keck Observatory and NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, the scientists set out to find the answers to this question that has long haunted the world of science.

When the chemical signatures of the two different forms of water were calculated, it was revealed that one of them was the usual H2O while the other was HDO which is known as ‘heavy water’ because of it contains more of deuterium which is a hydrogen isotope. It seems that this heavy water is still trapped in the atmosphere of Mars. The normal H2O, however, has been lost to outer space from the planet. The ratio of both waters found across the different seasons and regions of the planet were also calculated.

From the data they obtained, the scientists generated an atmospheric map corresponding to three years in terms of Mars time (and 6 years of ours). The microclimates and seasonal changes that were likely to have occurred in the early years of the planet were thus also recreated.

The north and south poles of Mars used to have a considerable amount of heavy water. It was thus deduced from the ratios calculated that Mars has lost a great quantity of H2O, perhaps of a volume 6.5 larger than the volume in its polar caps now. This implies that the ocean on early Mars had around 20 million cubic kilometers.

“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than was previously thought, suggesting it might have been habitable for longer,” one of the team, Michael Mumma, said in the press release.

Discoveries of this type might soon answer more questions as to the drastic changes that turned Mars from a wet planet to the hostile desert that it now is.

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