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NASA Spacecraft Finds New Evidence of Ancient Lake on Mars

Jan 21, 2013 02:57 AM EST
Mars crater water
This view of layered rocks on the floor of McLaughlin Crater shows sedimentary rocks that contain spectroscopic evidence for minerals formed through interaction with water.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

New images of the McLaughlin Crater on Mars, obtained by a NASA spacecraft, provide evidence of a wet underground environment on the red planet.

NASA scientists analyzed the images taken from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which was launched in 2005 in search of evidence showing that water persisted on the planet for a long period of time. The Crater is 57 miles wide and 1.4 miles deep, which appears to have allowed underground water to flow into its interior.

Scientists used the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on the MRO to check for the presence of minerals. They noticed that the flat rocks at the bottom of the McLaughlin Crater contain carbonate and clay minerals, elements that form through interaction with water.

"Taken together, the observations in McLaughlin Crater provide the best evidence for carbonate forming within a lake environment instead of being washed into a crater from outside," Joseph Michalski, lead author of the paper from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, said in a statement.

"A number of studies using CRISM data have shown rocks exhumed from the subsurface by meteor impact were altered early in Martian history, most likely by hydrothermal fluids," Michalski said. "These fluids trapped in the subsurface could have periodically breached the surface in deep basins such as McLaughlin Crater, possibly carrying clues to subsurface habitability."

This new data adds to the increasing body of evidence which suggests that life might have thrived on Martian soil sometime in the distant past. Recently, European Space Agency's Mars Express captured images of a river-like structure in the upper Reull Vallis region of Mars. The river is believed to have once formed when running water was flowing through the Promethei Terra Highlands, adjacent to Reull Vallis.

Apart from this, significant evidence showing that water once flowed on the Martian surface was detected by Mars rover Curiosity in September last year. Curiosity, which is currently exploring the Gale Crater, found remnants of an ancient streambed on the surface of Mars, suggesting that an ancient stream ran across the region in Gale Crater.

The findings of the study appear in Sunday's online edition of Nature Geoscience.

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