Mars reveals its secrets, layer after layer. Apparently, it once had a larger quantity than what we surmised. In fact, at one time, Mars had enough water to cover the entire planet in depths of 137 metres. Scientists say this water congregated into an ocean the size of earth’s Artic Ocean, and formed the Ice caps scientists at NASA view today.
At one time, the polar ice caps of Mars covered half the planet as water. The reason we know this as truth is by observing the dry landscape of Mars. The surface is covered in deep trenches, and the sandy landscape of the deserts of Mars are engraved as well. When the water was present, its depths reached 1.6 kilometers or 1 mile, holding 20 million cubic kilometers of water! This ancient ocean on Mars had enough water to cradle life. These estimates include how much water was found in the ice caps and how much was lost in space.
Geronimo Villanueva from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in the United States said, “This work explains Mars and the history of its water.”
Villanueva and his team used the most prolific instruments – infrared telescopes – to gauge information about Mars’ ancient waters. With the European Southern Observatory’s large telescope in Chile, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the NASA infrared Telescope facility in Hawaii, scientists were able to detect chemical signatures which revealed two different types of Martian water – H20 and HD0.
H20 is self-explanatory. It is simply the water we drink every day. The other form of water or HDO is considered “heavy water”. Unlike H20, HDO contains much more deuterium or the hydrogen isotope. It seems that H20 is evaporated into space, while HDO stays put! The remaining water is the same water congregated to form the ice caps in the northern hemisphere, thus the landscape scars of traveling liquid.
Results published in Science further describe the ratio of H20 and HD0 at the North and South Poles. Both these areas contain massive amounts of water. Calculations conclude that Mars has lost over 6 times the volume of its present day polar caps.
In a press release, Michael Mumma states, “Since Mars is losing this much water, it proves that Mars was covered in water and habitable for life much longer than we previously thought.”
Scientists calculated ratios of both waters during different seasons. They also studied water history in various areas of the planet. A map, created from the study of Martian water, provided a look at the atmosphere spanning 6 years in earth time-3 years in Martian time.
Ian Sample, writing for the Guardian, said, “At one time, Mars was a wet and warm world. This young planet had streams, rivers and lakes, and thrived 4.5 billion years ago – not long after its birth.”
Since our discoveries press even closer, it is possible that one day we will have an idea about ancient Martian inhabitants. What’s more, we may understand the event that changed it all for Mars. Could this happen to us as well?