Mars suffered "catastrophic floods" of water 3.7 billion years ago


Mars may be known as a desolate and dusty desert – but this has not always been the case.

Billions of years ago, the planet ran with water and was subjected to "catastrophic floods" that carved the canyons into the landscape that still exists today.

The flood came from gigantic lakes that would overflow with water. Now these lakes are nothing more than huge craters that mark the Martian surface.

"These shattered lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian," said Tim Goudge, a postdoctoral fellow at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas.

The Hubble telescope made this photo of Mars 11 hours before the planet approached Earth on August 26, 2003. (Image: Reuters)

"So we found that this catastrophic flood style and rapid incision of exit canyons was probably very important on the primitive surface of Mars."

Goudge, along with NASA scientist Caleb Fassett and Jackson School professor and associate dean research David Mohrig, co-author of an article on the flood that was published in Geology magazine after analyzing NASA's Mars photos.

Until this study, it was not known whether the canyons on Mars were gradually sculpted over millions of years or quickly carved out by single floods.

Using high resolution photos taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite, the researchers examined the topography of the crater's openings and edges and found a correlation between the size of the outlet and the volume of water expected to be released during a major flood event .

The Jezero Crater is a paleolago and potential landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 mission in pursuit of past lives. (Image: NASA / Tim Goudge)

If the tap had been gradually reduced over time, the relationship between water volume and tap size would probably not be sufficient, Goudge said.

In all, the researchers examined 24 of these "paleolagos" and their canyons across the Red Planet.

One of the paleolagos examined in the study, Jezero Crater, is a potential landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 mission in search of signs of past life. Goudge and Fassett have proposed the crater as a landing site based on previous studies that found that it contained water for long periods in Mars' past.

While massive floods flowing from Martian craters may sound like a scene in a science-fiction novel, a similar process occurs on Earth when lakes dammed by glaciers traverse their icy barriers.

The Palouse River Canyon is part of the Canalized Scablands, a geological feature in eastern Washington carved by catastrophic flooding during the last ice age. Researchers have discovered large floods on Mars and Earth has carved the earth in a similar way. (Image: Keith Ewing)

Researchers have found that similarity is more than superficial. While gravity is counted, floods create outputs with similar shapes, whether on Earth or on Mars.

"It tells us that things that are different between planets are not as important as the basic physics of the overflow process and the size of the basin," Goudge said.

"You can learn more about this process by comparing different planets rather than just thinking about what is happening on Earth or what is happening on Mars."

Caleb Fassett, of NASA, said: "The landscape on Earth does not preserve large lakes for a long time. But on Mars … these canyons have been there for 3.7 billion years, a long time, and it gives us an idea of ​​how was the surface water on Mars.


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