Mars Lake Discovered; Is There Water? Is There Life? [PHOTO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on January 21, 2013 12:59 PM EST

Mars Lake
Is the McLaughlin crater home to evidence of life on Mars? (Photo: NASA)

A gigantic crater surveyed by NASA's Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests that Mars may have a lake under the surface. The potential Mars lake is located in the McLaughlin Crater, a 57-mile wide depression that is so deep in the ground that satellite photos were able to detect evidence of an ancient lake on the crater walls.

A steady water flow would have created a Mars lake of substantial size and created an environment suitable for life. There is no water left over from the Mars lake inside the crater today, but it is possible that some still exists beneath the surface. But evidence of water from the Mars lake was found inside the bone-dry crater, and the find gives scientists reason to get excited.

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"This new report and others are continuing to reveal a more complex Mars than previously appreciated, with at least some areas more likely to reveal signs of ancient life than others," Rich Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project told VR-Zone.com.

Researchers wanted to examine McLaughlin crater for a potential Mars lake because its depth -- one of the lowest points on the surface of Mars -- makes it an ideal candidate to spot evidence of subterranean liquids welling up from beneath the surface. The minerals on the floor of the crater indicate the presence of a Mars lake made of up-welled groundwater. The orbiter also detected channels on the eastern wall of the crater about 1,650 feet from the floor, a potential sign of a Mars lake surface. Because Mars has less gravity than Earth, its surface is less dense thereby making it easier for water to travel up from beneath the surface and then flow back down.

"The deep crust has always been the most habitable place on Mars, and would be a wise place to search for evidence for organic processes in the future," Joseph Michalski, of the Planetary Science Institute and London's Natural History Museum, and lead author of the study detailing the new findings told Space.com.

Michalski explained that on Earth, half of all the planet's living matter exists three miles or more underground. Those organisms are some of the simplest forms of life, an indication that life on Earth may have begun underground and a reason to explore the Martian subsurface, particularly near the newly discovered Mars lake. The search for life on Mars, said Michalski, is continually at the forefront of conversation about the planet because scientists are always learning new things about how life could survive on the Red Planet.

"Mars is habitable in more ways than we ever realized for many years, and we are finding water in many forms and environments on Mars," he said. "Many more than we predicted for a long time."

Now that scientists are discovering more and more places where life could have existed, what's the next step?

"We should give serious consideration to exploring rocks representing subsurface environments in future missions," Michalski said. "Science is special because we are allowed to change our minds."

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