NASA Research Suggests Water on Mars Planet was more than Earth’s Arctic Ocean

Water on Mars planet
An artistic impression of the planet Mars
with large northern ocean. Credit: ESO

NASA research suggest that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic ocean. A six year analysis of water on Mars planet suggests that the Red Planet has lost the equivalent of an ocean’s worth of water over the past four billion years. However a debate has started raising the question of wheather the planet Mars was hot enough to host such an ocean.

The research was conducted using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility, both in Hawaii. The research has revealed how much water has escaped from the atmosphere of Mars throughout its history.

Perhaps about 4.3 billion years ago, the planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 450 feet (137 meters) deep. More likely, the water would have formed an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere, in some regions reaching depths greater than a mile (1.6 kilometers).

“It implies that a substantial amount of water was available during the first billion years on Mars, raising the possibility that ancient Mars was habitable”, Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard space Flight Center.

The team analysed the composition of water molecules to trace the history of water on Mars surface. Water molecules have two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. But the hydrogen atom also has an isotope called deuterium which has one neutron ànd one proton in the nucleus compared to single proton in hydrogen. The water having two deuterium is called heavy water and the water having one deuterium and one hydrogen is called semi-heavy water. The light water escapes the atmosphere of Mars easily and get lost into space leaving heavy form water on the surface of Mars.

Over the billion of years the preferential loss of normal water has left the Mars enriched in semi-heavy water compared to the regular water by a factor of seven times greater than the ratio in Earth’s water. Extrapolating backward from the current ratio of hydrogen to deuterium, and incorporating factors such as collisions between water molecules and the predominant molecules in Mars atmosphere, carbon dioxide, Villanueva’s team were able to calculate how much water has lost from Mars.

Currently, the water on Mars planet is locked up in its polar caps and underground. If you could take all the water that exist today on the planet Mars, and put it on the surface in liquid form, it would form an ocean 21 meter deep (69 feet).

We see evidence all over Mars that water once flowed freely, cutting, river channels and gullies, spreading onto flood plains and altering the chemistry of the minerals near the surface such evidence could have been created by liquid water acting over relatively short timescale. If Mars really had a northern ocean, the planet’s climate would need to have been warm for at least ddits first billion years.

Furthermore, NASA’s MAVEN ( Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft, now in orbit around the Red Planet to investigate the history of atmosphere of Mars, will be able to peel away new layers in the mystery of water on Mars.

Reference:

http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/march/nasa-research-suggests-mars-once-had-more-water-than-earth-s-arctic-ocean

http://www.astrobio.net/news-exclusive/warm-or-cold-mars-history-takes-a-watery-new-twist/

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