Water On Mars? NASA HiRISE Camera Reveals New Evidence Of Martian Ocean

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 17, 2013 12:22 PM EDT

mars surface
A Martian ocean may have existed on the Red Planet, say Caltech scientists studying topographical images from NASA's HiRISE camera. (Photo: NASA)

NASA's Curiosity rover recently pointed to evidence of ancient rivers on Mars, and now scientists from the California Institute of Technology say that these rivers may have flowed into a Martian ocean.

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The Caltech scientists new evidence for an ocean on Mars came from images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera, a NASA device currently circling Mars.  

In Aeolis Dorsa, a plane about 600 miles east of Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is currently traveling, the Caltech scientists found what appears to be evidence of an ancient delta and a large depression on the Martian surface, what may have been the basin of an ocean on Mars. Inverted channels and ridges, which may have formed from water erosion, provide further evidence of a Martian ocean, the scientists say in a study published in the July 12 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research.  

"Scientists have long hypothesized that the northern lowlands of Mars are a dried-up ocean bottom, but no one yet has found the smoking gun," said study co-author Mike Lamb, an assistant professor of geology at Caltech.

Looking at the NASA HiRISE camera's high-res 3D images, the Caltech scientists were able to determine the possible direction of water flow on the Martian surface. The slope of the landscape indicates that water of a river flowed downhill into a delta, which in turn may have emptied into an ocean on Mars.

"This is probably one of the most convincing pieces of evidence of a delta in an unconfined region -- and a delta points to the existence of a large body of water in the northern hemisphere of Mars," said Roman DiBiase, Caltech postdoctoral scholar and the study's lead author.

While this latest finding pointing to a Martian ocean is not definite proof that the body of water existed, the Caltech scientists say that it fits into a growing body of evidence that water once flowed on Mars.

"In our work and that of others - including the Curiosity rover -- scientists are finding a rich sedimentary record on Mars that is revealing its past environments, which include rain, flowing water, rivers, deltas, and potentially oceans," said Lamb. "Both the ancient environments on Mars and the planet's sedimentary archive of these environments are turning out to be surprisingly Earth-like."

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