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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soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. geckopelli

    We MUST go to Mars. It is Imperative!

    Our economic system is based on Unlimited Growth. Unlimited Growth requires New Frontiers.
    New Frontiers create new Markets. New Markets allow for Econimic Growth.

    Once, we raced to the Moon and now we have PC's and Video Games as a result.
    As we head to Mars, who knows what we may harvest along the way?

    June 25, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ryan

    @Reverend Ike – We do possess the technology to got to mars....the issue is communication, it just takes too long to communicate across the vast distance between earth and mars. If there's a problem on the ship it would take about 40 minutes to send and receive a communication back from earth. just too risky to send people that far away right now.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. Melissa

    Man, I love science.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. B

    All the religious hillbillies better scramble for cover. Your fig leaf keeps getting thinner and thinner.

    June 25, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. HamBurgler

    With water on mars will be able to feed starving children in Africa!

    June 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      We have PLENTY of food that is wasted, more than enough to feed those starving kids in Africa. Why don't you try shutting up about their starving and give to a charity that is trying to get that surplus of food to them?

      June 25, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • J G

      If they're starving, then maybe there are just too many people there. The environment can only support what it can. Propping up a failing ecosystem is just a waste of resources. Let nature take its course.

      June 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Texas Pete

    Heck, we have known Mars has canals for decades. How is this news?

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

      Wrong, there are no "canals" on Mars. Do some research.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    space exploration is very much worth the money and energy, but there have never been real good reasons to send human beings into space. For a fraction of the cost of a manned program, everything we have accomplished with the space program could have been done without astronauts. In response to Jorge, Ae Pucc was replying to a political rant against taxpayer funded programs.

    June 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Philip, I understand his rant. But at the end he mentioned "Tea Baggers." I just think the default response is to marginalize Tea Party. Although I pesonally think Sarah Palin and others involved in it are idiots, I respect some of the ideals of the tea party, such as increased states rights, reduced federal gov't, etc.

      Anyway, I think the issue of space exploration is and should be APOLITICAL, and about the human race, not polarized politics.

      June 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. splasher6

    so our search results declined from super intelligent aliens to prehistoric algae. How much did that set us back?
    Where's Al Gore when you need him?

    June 25, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. NASAismainlyawaste

    What does it matter if there was water there or even life? Why do we spend billions of dollars a year trying to figure that out? How will this be beneficial for us? I'd love to see my tax money go towards something that is going to work for us now, not just being lost in space. I say cut NASA WAY down!

    June 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Actually scroll up and READ some of the other comments on here, will you please?

      It is NOT a waste. Many of the things you enjoy today (like the PC you on which you are reading this article) ARE a result of the space program and it's technology. It matters that there is water on Mars because if any is still there, it would be that much easier to set up colonies there. Why colonies? Mining, research, and insurance against the end of the human race! Come on, please step back and think!

      June 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe e buttafusco

      "What does it matter if there was water there or even life? Why do we spend billions of dollars a year trying to figure that out? How will this be beneficial for us? I'd love to see my tax money go towards something that is going to work for us now, not just being lost in space. I say cut NASA WAY down!" -NASAismainlyawaste

      He says as he adjusts hiz teflon coated pot on hiz head whilest watchin' th' world cup on hiz big LCD screen! -joe

      June 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • bckm

      TAX THE CHURCHES! Even a nominal single- or low-double-digit tax rate would probably be enough to provide sorely-needed funding for all sorts of programs, including space research. And don't give me the BS about taxing the church would give them a right to be heard politically – like they're not doing that NOW?!?!

      June 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • ibelieve85

      I bet you same atheist yahoos who complain about us religious people and our beliefs are the same ones who chase ghosts around with cameras and infrared lasers. (I'm getting to a point, I promise).

      What exactly do you think is going to happen when the world comes to a close and everything blows up? Where are all of these ghosts going to live? What will they have left to haunt?

      June 25, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • ibelieve85

      Tax the churches??? Then you have to tax every not-for-profit organization, unless you're a fan of dictatorship where King Obama could just pick and choose what he wishes to tax and not tax.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      It would be influintial for us when our atnosphere starts deteriorating, or if a 1 million ton asteroid is bearing down on us! All the money in the world wouldnt be worth the paper its printed on then.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sybaris

    I hope they find the artifacts of an advanced civilization who worshiped a god that gave his only begotten son.

    June 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fletch

      Does it make you feel superior to disrespect what others hold dear? Anyway, this is NOT about religion. See my comments to KidCanada above.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe e buttafusco

      "I hope they find the artifacts of an advanced civilization who worshiped a god that gave his only begotten son." -Sybaris

      'Scuse? Would that be the Earthly one ...... OR the Martian one??? Just asking. -Joe E

      June 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul In Dallas, TX

      Sybaris, you made me laugh out loud. Thanks for improving my Friday.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Yar

    If the hippie tree huggers get their way we won't be drilling or mining for anything on this planet. So we better find other sources for all that raw material (metals, minerals, etc). That is one economic incentive to go there. Unmanned missions are nice and cheap but the 40+ minute delay in communication means really lousy reaction time. Having live humans there means having great reaction times to deal with problems as they arise.

    June 25, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul In Dallas, TX

      Why does one have to be a hippie tree hugger to learn something from this gulf spill disaster??? You make me want to club you like a baby seal.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CHRIS

    JUST FORGET SPACE..... QUIT SPENDING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS ON SOMETHING THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN!!!! SPEND THOSE BILLIONS ON EARTH!!!

    June 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      "SPEND THOSE BILLIONS ON EARTH" As of today (June 2010) no one has ever spent money any place BUT on Earth. All those billions that we sent in the 60's to go to the moon were spend right here on Earth, none of the money was spent in space. If you follow the money, the US government collected income tax for 100M people then gave some of that money back to to some engineers and technicians, none of it left the US.

      To but this in perspective, $1B cost each of use in the US $3 per head. We as a nation spend more on ring tones for our cell phones than on mission to Mars.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • CHRIS

      the space program proves nothing. it is a total waste of manpower, and funding. what have we learned...... mmmmmmm...... aaaaaaa..... the Sun is HOT!!! mmmmmmmm we go around the Sun, maybe there was water on Mars, Maybe there was water on the Moon. So what? both places are un-inhabital by humans.

      June 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ahnold

    get youa ass to mahs

    June 25, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MrThou

    Mars was formerly the Garden of Eden. The tree with the Forbidden Fruit was actually a device that stabilized the planet's magenetic field. When Eve messed with it, it screwed up the planet. Adam and Eve had to relocate to Earth. How's THAT for the next bestseller?

    June 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe e buttafusco

      "Mars was formerly the Garden of Eden. The tree with the Forbidden Fruit was actually a device that stabilized the planet's magenetic field. When Eve messed with it, it screwed up the planet. Adam and Eve had to relocate to Earth. How's THAT for the next bestseller?" -MrThou

      ?!? You like to mess with their minds don'tcha? -joe

      June 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. malalan

    Wow. May be, just may be that we are placed here by the "Martians". If live existed and we know the fate of planet earth will inevitably be the same as Mars, can we not find a solution to the problem instead of looking back to the past since we can no longer live in Mars? Oh wait… there is the problem the sun will burned up by then. Well mankind is doomed.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
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