June 25th, 2010
09:55 AM ET

Mars once covered in water, space agency says

The European Space Agency says puddles and lakes of water like these likely existed during the early days on Mars.

Conditions favorable to life may once have existed all over Mars, the European Space Agency said Friday.

Two spacecraft have found evidence that liquid water was widespread over the red planet.

The ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have discovered hydrated silicate minerals in the northern lowlands of Mars, a clear indication that water once flowed there, the ESA said.

The two spacecraft had previously found thousands of small outcrops in the planet's southern hemisphere where rock minerals had been altered by water, it said. Many of these outcrops are in the form of hydrated clay minerals known as phyllosilicates. They indicate the planet's southern hemisphere was once much warmer and wetter than it is today.

No such sites had been found in the northern lowlands until this week, the ESA said. The northern lowlands are covered in thick blankets of lava and sediments up to several kilometers thick and that had hampered efforts to probe what lay beneath.

The ESA's Mars Express found the first hints of water in the northern plains, but the outcrops were small and more detailed observations were needed to confirm the evidence, the ESA said.

NASA's Orbiter provided higher resolution data that showed at least nine northern craters with phyllosilicates or other hydrated silicates, the ESA said. The finding was reported this week in the journal Science.

Those minerals formed in wet environments and were identical to those found in the southern hemisphere.

"We can now say that the planet was altered on a global scale by liquid water more than 4 billion years ago," said the report's lead author, John Carter of the University of Paris.

Scientists said it's difficult to draw conclusions about the type of environment that existed on Mars when it had water, but they do have some clues.

The sites "are rich in iron and magnesium, but less in aluminum. Together with the close proximity of olivine, which is easily modified by water, this indicates that the exposure to water lasted only tens to hundreds of millions of years," said Jean-Pierre Bibring, the OMEGA principal investigator from the University of Paris.

The scientists' search concentrated on 91 sizeable craters where incoming asteroids have punched down the planet's surface by several kilometers, exposing "ancient crustal material," the ESA said.

The results could also suggest sites for future Mars landers, because evidence of water during the planet's early history suggests conditions in those spots may have been favorable to the evolution of primitive life, the ESA said.

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Filed under: Space
soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. BreakingNewsBlog.us

    .
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    read what Buzz Aldrin says about Mars: http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/25572/?a=f
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    June 25, 2010 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
    • BreakingNewsBlog.us

      .
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      one year ago, I've published an article with a (possible) speech about Mars, that, all the people of the world that want the space exploration, waited to hear from Obama
      .
      http://www.ghostnasa.com/posts/047gotomars.html
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      .
      .

      June 25, 2010 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Buzz Aldrin is a puppet for the US government and the NASA space program. Anything that comes out of his mouth is because he was told to say it. He has his own opinions, sure, but he is a centerpiece for the everlasting cover-up of the true nature of the universe that the government wishes to keep for itself.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Chris R, shhhhh. They're listening to you.
      Put your tin foil hat back on, before they catch you!

      June 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      Wow, the crazies are out in full force this morning. Must be some cosmic alignment...

      June 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe e buttafusco

      "It is a tragedy that most science of this type is primarily funded through theft. (taxes" -John

      Unfortunately old son, government is funded through taxes (THEFT as you will). Ever wonder what would happen to your local traffic lights IF EVERYONE stopped paying them.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • sbp

      You got that right Chris. Didn't anyone see Santa Claus vs. the Martians? They're out to get Pia Zadora.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      I WANT A PET MARTIAN!

      June 25, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. colby

    Has anyone thought to look for remains of lifeforms, such as fossils?

    June 25, 2010 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Yes. That is part of the reason Spirit and Opportunity carry cameras.

      June 25, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      If life existed on Mars, it very likely never made it past the single-cell-organism state. "Fossils" per se just aren't going to be found unless evolution proceeded -very- rapidly on Mars -and- we get -very- lucky.

      June 25, 2010 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Sure, but they would have to get there first. Its not like they can send a robot to the places where fossils would be located. I believe the rovers can only drill an inch or so in rock.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      It's still under debate. There has been research done on meteorites which appear to have leftover pockets of what appears to be bacteria fossils. These meteorites appear to have the same characteristics as Mars rock.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060512105730.htm

      June 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Howard Markowitz

    'John Carter of the University of Paris' talks about water on Mars. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have loved it!

    June 25, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      "Edgar Rice Burroughs would have loved it!"

      For a "Tarzan on Mars" book?

      June 25, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Gord

      A Princess of Mars was Edgar Rice Burroughs very first book. The main character of the book was named "John Carter". There was a series of books but they are generally knows as the "John Carter of Mars" series. Great books. I nearly ROFL when I saw the scientist's name.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      No, from the Barsoom series. A series of 11 books of John Carter and his adventures on Mars.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Vel

    Mars had water...BIG DEAL. Can't our scientists come up with something more fruitful than wasting money on theories and speculation?

    June 25, 2010 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      A) Figuring out what caused Mars to lose all its water might one day help us prevent Earth from losing all its water, which is a Big Deal.

      B) Figuring out what caused Mars to lose all its water might one day help us repopulate it with water, giving someplace for the massive overabundance of humanity to go when we don't all fit here.

      June 25, 2010 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Gee

      Actually this is a BIG DEAL. If there was once water on Mars, it probably is still there subsurface. If this is the case it is very likely that there are still remnants of life in it.

      June 25, 2010 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      To the guy below me. Mars lost its atmosphere due to failure of its internal dynamo to maintain a magnetosphere, which allowed solar winds to "blow" the atmosphere away over time. Without the technology to re-create and maintain a Magnetosphere on Mars, we would be cooked alive on the surface.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      It is a tragedy that most science of this type is primarily funded through theft. (taxes).
      In a better world, science of this type would be funded the same way as NASCAR;
      through voluntary contributions from interested parties.

      The US is doomed because most people have grown comfortable with the idea of
      the government stealing from people with other priorities so super-educated
      scientists working for NASA can search for bacteria on mars.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Ramon F. Herrera

      "something more fruitful"

      Well, there's always Ouija boards, crystal balls and bibles...

      June 25, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Beasley

      Steve, the idea of using other planets to relieve population pressure on the Earth is nice, but completely unrealistic. Even if Mars were already Earth-like, we have to realize that the population of Earth grows at the rate of over 200,000 people every day. It simply is not feasible to transport that many people across interplanetary distances, much less interstellar distances.

      No, the best argument for a colony on Mars is to serve as a lifeboat, in which a small fraction of humanity might survive if some global cataclysm should strike our home world.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • ion

      Steve...you can't prevent a storm, and you want the prevent life from dieing on Earth?

      June 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      The combined budget of NASA, NSF and NIH pales in comparison to that of the DOD. I suggest you take your grievance at the use of 'ill-goten' tax money to the doorstep of the pentagon.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Perspective

      @Anonymous "The combined budget of NASA, NSF and NIH pales in comparison to that of the DOD. I suggest you take your grievance at the use of 'ill-goten' tax money to the doorstep of the pentagon."

      Indeed, and DOD discretionary spending pales in comparison to the combined mandatory spending for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid ($895B vs $1518B). Source: http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/

      Should I suggest you take your grievance at the use of 'ill-gotten' tax money to the doorstep of Congress?

      Just sayin'

      June 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      Once there is definitive proof of life beyond our planet, it will be worth all the billions spent just to discredit religious fanatics who think we are somehow the only life in this universe.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe e buttafusco

      "Mars had water...BIG DEAL. Can't our scientists come up with something more fruitful than wasting money on theories and speculation?" -Vel

      Like Germ theory, vaccines, streptomycin, DNA, gene therapy, evolution. ecetera, ecetera, ecetera?

      Theories and speculation all. -joe

      June 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • deedubya

      It's relativity theory that makes your GPS work, quantum theory that makes the computer you typed your comment on work, gravitational theory that makes communication and weather satellites possible, evolutionary theory that gives you vaccines for the latest flu virus.
      Which of these did scientists waste too much time on?

      June 25, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeremy Vaeni

    I like how when it comes to other planets, we use verbiage like, "...conditions in those spots may have been favorable to the evolution of primitive life...."

    May? Primitive? If we're marking 4 billion years ago as the end of water & life, who knows what or who evolved there in the years leading up to the catastrophe(s) that wiped them out? Why must we qualify former life on Mars when we don't know what existed there? What are we afraid of?

    June 25, 2010 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      They use terms like "may" because they are scientists, and they use caution in speech rather than make bold statements based on speculation. So far what we know makes portions of Mars look favorable for the development of early life, but we still know very little about exact conditions at that time. There could be some other overriding factor that made life less likely, but which we have not yet seen.

      On Earth, of course, the best proof that early conditions were favorable for the evolution of primitive life is the fact that life still exists, so something -must- have been favorable. Scientists can't say the same about Mars.

      "Primitive" is used because, in the absence of other evidence, life, if it existed at all, likely didn't evolve much past the single-cell organism state. If water only existed for tens or hundreds of millions of years, then scientists can compare Mars with Earth's evolution in that same time period. For Earth, some estimates are almost three billion years between the existence of the first living single-cell creatures and the first multi-cell creatures. Assuming conditions were favorable at all, a few hundred million years likely wasn't enough time for much to evolve on Mars at all.

      June 25, 2010 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack's Tattoos

      what indeed?? Nice catch.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Chet

      4 billion years ago, Mars probably looked very similar to what Earth looks like today. The Sun then, and even still, continues the fusion process and continues expanding in size which probably began the process of devouring the Martian magnetosphere (something that will occur here on Earth in a few billion years). This is just my theory, based on scientific facts that I am aware of...

      June 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      4 billion yrs ago, Mars probably looked more like earth did THEN, but not as hot. It's core cooled more quickly than ours b/c it is farther from the sun. The sun must have been hotter then, which may have been why Earth was so hot during the Hadean phase of it's evolution.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bob

    Did they check to see if an oil spill might have damaged Mars?

    June 25, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • nkl

      Ya, no intelligent life here...moving on

      June 25, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      It was a joke, dude!

      June 25, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. VelvetElvis

    When I hear former astronauts complain that we need manned missions to Mars (or even back to the moon), I ask myself: "Really? What benefit would that serve?"

    I think the future of space exploration lies with un-manned probes and satellites - they're much more capable of reaching places that manned spacecraft could possibly imagine anytime in the near future (or even distant 50 years).

    Just look at what we've learned from Hubble, the Viking probes and even the most recent Mars probes in the last 10 years. Absolutely amazing amounts of data that we'd never be able to collect if we focused on manned spacecraft.

    June 25, 2010 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Yes, but Humans can do more detailed studies, and get into places that probes, rovers and satelites cant get to. Also in the words of Stephen Hawking (not exact), We need to find a place to habitate other then earth so we dont have all of our eggs in one basket.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. James

    Humans used to chill on Mars.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  9. KidCanada

    Yes, Mars had water and the reason it doesn't have water anymore is because it lost its magnetic field, causing the sun to burn off the atmosphere and its water. I'd think the next step is for a manned mission to hunt for fossils, the at least we can put all this religion non-sense to rest, and move on with our lives!

    June 25, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Age matters because....

      Well, just so long as your quest for knowledge is non-biased and open to truthful interpretation of actual facts.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Fletch

      1. Why do you think finding fossils on Mars will end religion? Have you studied Earth science? You know fossils have been found here, right? That hasn't affected religion. Have you studied human history? Nothing eradicates the human need to seek spiritual meaning.
      2. What in your (apparently) atheist psyche compels you to turn this article about science into an excuse to throw a disparaging comment at religion? Stow it until you find an appropriate venue. The rest of us want to talk about science, not hear your anti-religion soapbox diatribe.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Yea!

      June 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      @Fletch...before you use the word "diatribe" i suggest you look up it's definition so you you don't look like a fool. 3 words does not qualify as a diatribe, stimey.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous.

      "@Fletch...before you use the word "diatribe" i suggest you look up it's definition so you you don't look like a fool. 3 words does not qualify as a diatribe, stimey."

      From Dictionary.com:

      Diatribe:
      –noun
      a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism: repeated diatribes against the senator.

      I don't think he was saying three words qualified a diatribe. Maybe you should look things up before you sound like a fool.

      July 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MIKE

    THIS IS NICE TO KNOW, BUT PRIOR TO LOSING ALL THE WATER ON MARS THEIR WAS AN OIL SPILL ON MARS . NOW YOU KNOW WHAT WE HAVE TO LOOK FORWARD TOO.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. Reverand Ike

    We must go to Mars. It is in our nature to explore; to want to know how we evolved; how our Solar System evolved. A mission to Mars is worthy of the risk and cost and should be an international effort. There will be losses – we cannot plug an oil leak 5000 ft below our own ocean – but we must press on and learn. Humanity is one asteroid away from extinction. God gave us the intellect to save ourselves and survive, and so we must.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • gheezy

      so that we can destroy Mars just like we are on earth? Life existed on Mars, but we do not have the technology yet to have any astronauts land on the moon.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • kmduddly

      Glad one of use here is an optimist

      June 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Howie

      gheezy – WHAT?? We do not yet have the tech to land people on the moon?!? News flash, we did that over 40 yrs. ago. We have the tech today to go anywhere in the solar system, just not the political will to provide the funding. Manned exploration is absolutely essential. Yes, robots can do a great job of collecting information – to make the manned missions successful. The only way to get the general public excited about space exploration is to send people to space. As far as "so we can destroy Mars like we have Earth" That is simply an ignorant statement. First off, we have not harmed Earth in any way. We may have damaged the ecosystem that we need for continued survival, but the planet is just fine thanks. Mars does not have an ecosystem, so nothing to damage. All we could possibly do to Mars is improve it. If our tech ever progresses to the point that we could provide a magnetic field and terraform the planet, we really could create a second Earth. There is no ethical dilemma here, as the place is a dead rock right now.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ana4

      I say we have to evolve life on Earth first, and learn more about the oceans.

      June 25, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Andrew Friet

    The discovery of the possibility of past life on Mars is important to us..... WHY? It isn't there now. There are pretty solit thoeries about why it isn't there now. I am all for exploration of space to learn new things but let's move on to something a little more substantial than this crap. We used to have the same fascination for the moon until they proved that there is absolutely no possibility of life there. Now we explore looking for water there as a stepping stone to interplanetary exploration in the future. I am absolutely confident that there is intelligent life in the universe. But I am also just as confident that it isn't on Mars or anywhere else in our solar system.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. Reverand Ike

    Well, Gheezy, it has been over 40 years since we last had men on the moon. Had we focused on manned lunar missions, we would have had the technology to land on Mars by now. Look how aviation technology advanced between 1918 and 1958. Granted, two wars pushed the envelope, but you can see what is possible.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • gheezy

      I meant to say land on mars not the moon.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bill from GA

    They'll say that about Earth one day, if any looks.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ae Pucc

    Hey John, Nascar goes round & round in a circle and round & round in a circle, and round & round in a circle!! I suppose the super educated would try to do lazy eights. Tell me, when your house is on fire how much the government stole from you for that fancy fire truck and all the fire guys in overpriced turn outs, saving your cat, I mean tell me lad!!! No wonder the tea baggers exist!!!!!

    June 25, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      @Ae Pucc: Please don't let this devolve into a right-wing/left-wing debate. It's not.

      I tend to be a right-leaning moderate, with some appreciation of the themes of the Tea Party, and I think manned and un-manned Space Exploration is simply imperative. I also think there are a lot of otherwise bright people who do not appreciate all that space travel has given us. As you mentioned, everything from fire trucks/fire suits to pacemaker technology to communications, the space program is one of the few programs that pays for itself many times over in terms of dividends to humanity.

      Also, don't forget, they mentioned in this article the tremendous mineral resources on Mars, and we suspect on other planets, as well. If you don't think that's important, you haven't seen the rising prices on minerals as a result of the third world becoming increasingly industrialized.

      Space pays dividends, and overcoming the obstacles required to explore space will continue to benefit our own planet. If you can't see that, regardless of your political stance, I beg you to step back and reconsider the big picture.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
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