Catastrophic Mars Flooding: New NASA Discoveries Reveal Huge Channels [PHOTO]
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, an official NASA spacecraft surveying Mars, has turned up a new discovery: signs of extensive and ancient Mars flooding on an unprecedented scale. The probe has spent the last several years gathering pictures of the Martian canals - once believed to be artificial - and, on March 7th, NASA released a new 3D schematic revealing more about the channels than ever before.
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The photographs the spacecraft took over the last few years provide strong evidence of truly catastrophic Mars flooding within recent geological time - i.e., around 500 million years ago, during or somewhat after the Cambrian explosion that led to the evolution of truly diverse and sophisticated life on Earth - and over 2 billion years after Mars most likely became a dry, cold, and barren planet, rather than the wet, cool planet it had been when Earth was still a molten rock.
More specifically, the Mars flooding took place in an area called Elysium Planitia, pictured above, an equatorial region afflicted with volcanism more recently than anywhere else on the Red Planet. That volcanism means that older geological phenomena in the region are buried under lava rock - including Marte Vallis, a 600-mile long channel system just discovered to be twice as deep as previously supposed.
Through the use of orbital sounding radar and SHARAD (or shallow radar - radar capable of seeing through rock), NASA discovered that the Mars flooding caused vastly more erosion than was previously known. According to NBC News, this is further evidence not of continuously running water on Mars in the recent past, but of catastrophically large amounts of Mars flooding over a brief period of time. The channels weren't permanent flowing rivers, at least not at that time, but outlets for massive amounts of water.
According to Gareth Morgan, a NASA geologist, the Mars flooding did not originate from any changes in the Mars polar ice caps. Rather, it seems that the floodwaters "originated from a deep groundwater reservoir and may have been released by local or tectonic activity." And this was a truly massive amount of water, equivalent to the Missoula Floods on Earth at the end of the last ice age. For comparison, those floods, caused by glacial collapse, had an output thirteen times greater than the Amazon, the most voluminous river on Earth today.
The Mars flooding resulted from a fracture in the Cerberus Fossae fracture system, which released the water after tectonic or volcanic activity.
The sporadic nature of the Mars flooding is not entirely unlike desert climates on Earth. Most deserts receive periodic precipitation in the form of flash floods, like the ones on Mars. However, these are usually caused by rare but intense rainstorms, not underground water reserves.
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