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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Wet, Wetter, Wettest Mars

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, April 16, 2015/Categories: natural history, space science, environment, adventure

Global warming and melting glaciers would be a good thing on Mars and the place to look for any biology.

It has long been known that the ice caps on Mars are made of water with seasonal carbon dioxide crusts. New photographic and radar discoveries are showing that Mars was not only wet in the past, but could be in the future, and is at present. This is a big change in understanding of contemporary Mars environments.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has provided the more recent data showing that glaciers exist in belts surrounding the planet in both the northern and southern hemispheres. MRO images also show the ice is covered by dust but they can get exposed when punctured by meteor strikes.

                     Exposed Glacial Ice Covered by Dust and Glacial Belts Surrounding Mars (credit: NASA)                                                
Using MRO radar measurements of Mars, researchers write in  Geophysical Research Letters  that enough water exist as glaciers to create an ocean more than a meter deep over the entire planet if it were to all melt under warmer conditions. Additionally,  JPL's Curiosity rover  has gathered data showing that Mars even has a contemporary hydrologic cycle. Salts in the Martian soils act as absorptive materials allowing a briny water to remain liquid at night even at the low atmospheric temperature and pressure of the planet. The water evaporates from the soil back into the atmosphere as the sun rises.

                             Day-Night Saline Brine Hydorlogic Cycle on Mars  (credit: NASA)

Seasonally liquid water, mostly likely also saline, has been observed seeping from south facing canyon walls during spring and summer months on Mars not unlike similar seeps from canyon walls in the southwestern USA. Piecing together a series of photographs from  Newton Crater  over an entire season has produced a dynamic animation of this Martian crater seepage in progress.

Mars may be mostly a dry desert today but once it was far wetter and the new data now shows that it is still wet. If you looked in these places, they might be good locations to find current biology if that was your objective.


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