Mars may have supported life for a long time

eau liquide sédiments mars vie

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Recent analysis of images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft suggests that the red planet may have been alive billions of years ago. Researchers have actually discovered an area in the Margaritifer Terra abyss covered with clay deposits. The presence of this clay substance indicates that water has flowed into this area, which provides a space for life to emerge.

Scientists have been trying for decades to determine if life once (or still exists) on Mars. One of Mars’ 2020 missions and its diligent rover’s mission is to take samples of Martian soil and then search for traces of ancient life. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been orbiting the red planet since 2006. The images it aired revealed the presence of water ice again and again, but so far no artisan has detected liquid water.

However, liquid water is one of the most essential substances for life (as we know it on earth). A team from the Institute of Planetary Sciences recently made an important discovery: an in-depth analysis of images captured by the study showed that liquid water actually existed on Mars in the past and that it had been there for a very long time. In other words, there were no hospitable living conditions on this planet today.

Liquid water for over a billion years

Catherine Weights, a senior scientist at the Institute of Planetary Sciences, and her team call it the “long history of liquid water” in a press release. They were particularly interested in the Lawton Basin, located in the Margaritifer Terra – the deepest crater on Mars, with ancient outgoing channels and many sedimentary plains already identified.

March clay deposits
The picture shows the colored layer of clay deposits in Lawton Walls, partly covered with airy dark brown material. The magnification of the image shows layers several meters thick, varying in brightness and color. © NASA / HiRISE / University of Arizona.

By examining MRO snapshots, the researchers found clay deposits in this bed, including the northern Lawton Walls, south of the basin and the surrounding southwestern hills. Although these deposits have no evidence of survival, they prove that Mars was once viable, as clay is a major source of nutrients. ” The presence of clay indicates a favorable environment for life because the clay will form and remain stable under neutral pH conditions, where water will last longer, reducing evaporation to form other minerals such as sulfates. Says Weeds.

According to the group, liquid water appeared “relatively early” in the history of Mars, about 3.8 billion years ago (knowing that it formed about 4.6 billion years ago, like the other planets in the solar system). This water may have existed until about 2.5 billion years ago, which researchers estimate is “relatively recent.”

Desolate environment conducive to life

The light-colored deposits they found are widespread, especially in the valleys and the Lawton Basin, and extend laterally for more than 200 km, the researchers said in the journal. Icarus. The morphology and mineralogy of these sediments provide evidence for the existence of a lake north of Lawton Basin and Lawton Walls. ” The low energy lacustrine environment and the clay reserve support a favorable environment for life at that time. “, The scientist underlines.

The morphology of the layer varies greatly in color and brightness, the panel writes, but the sediments contain mainly Mg-smectite (phyllosilicate) signatures. Researchers believe that clay was first formed in the old uplands around the Laden Basin.

As the water receded, it eroded this upland clay to form the Lawton Walls Canal and eventually deposited sediment in a lake north of the Lawton Basin and the Lawton Valley. The lake dates from the Upper Nocian to the early Hesperian. ” The lacustrine environment may also have been favorable for in-situ weather and clay formation “, The group notes.

The latest water flow, from the Late Hesperian to the early Amazonian, lies in the southwestern Laden Basin; Sedimentary sediments in this area show a signature similar to that identified in the Eberswalde Delta, another part of Mars, located south of the study region. ” Our results indicate that silt deposits in running water in the Eberswalde are not uncommon in recent times, as we see many examples of similar clay-stained young valleys in the area. Says Weeds.

In short, this study confirms that liquid water was abundant on Mars at one time and therefore may be supportive of life in many cases. But this last point can only be confirmed by diligence after laboratory analysis of the currently collected material.

Source: C. Weights et al., Icarus

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