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. doma

    I'm glad to know that we put aside a piece of our budget for exploration and science. I'd love to see both NASA's and ESA's budget increased.

    As for bringing minerals back – I don't think that's useful. Even if you find piles of diamonds on Mars just sitting on the surface, you would not make any money trying to bring them back.

    The main benefits of going there, currently, is the knowledge gained. In science, being able to compare two different things is a huge way to learn more about something. By comparing the weather on Mars to the weather on Earth you learn a lot about how the weather on Earth works. If we found bacteria on Mars and compared it to bacteria/life on Earth, we'd learn a ton of new things about biology on Earth – knowledge that might help everybody.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      That's fine that you don't think it's worthwhile to bring minerals back. But there are already public and private groups working on doing exactly that. I agree with the rest of your post, but don't count out harvesting resources from asteroids/planets/etc.

      While the cost may be prohibitive NOW, by the time we can set up mining colonies far away, chances are excellent it will be far more feasible...and needed!

      June 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Pappas

      We'd probably learn what the Natives Indians learned about disease from the white man.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tonyjustin

    Remarkable findings that are suggestive of a great deal of water on the surface of mars in the past. Where did it go? Did it just gradually evaporate and dissipate into space over time? Will that happen on earth? Some water must leave our atmosphere every day.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. crbuak

    There is no way we can truly figure out what had happened, when it happened, how it happened or if anything happened to Mars. Nor can you begin to transfer any "ideas" to earth because everything about the two are different. Also you can't prevent what is going to happen to earth, humans can make less of an impact through actions but we don't have that kind of control.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Pappas

      Actually I think if we would invested a little more in asteroid tracking we might be able to avoid being hit and wiped out.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ana4

      I thought some group or observatory IS tracking asteroids; the prognosis so far is that a possible "killer" by direct hit isn't due until ~2029.–ref: Scientific American or Astronomy magazines; don't recall when or who, but some are on the alert.

      June 25, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tenorlord

    For liquid water to have existed, the atmospheric pressure must have been much higher. The question now is: how did Mars loose it's atmosphere?

    June 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John Ramirez

    Amazing science and great work.. worthy of additional long term funding!

    June 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Erin

    People of Earth: I, Erin Vautrin, am the one who stole the water from Mars. If you Earthlings don't vote for Sarah Palin in the 2010, I will take your water too! This message is made available by the lovely people at BURGER KING.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony Moore


      June 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Pappas

      Who's Sarah's running mate?? Her retarded daughter..zing...ouch...i said it but everybody is laughing...except those that would vote for her.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrThou

      Lies! We all know that Carmen Sandiego stole the water. You're just a petty thief.

      June 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. justuandme

    On a topic unrelated to this article, ...If we are having a hard time plugging a hole just 1 mile under water in a timely fashion ....what makes us ready to concentrate on sending manned exploration to mars as suggested by Buzz? The ISS just only became completed and is almost already reaching its end of its intended life span. We need more research before we can think about sending manned missions further than the moon. Its not like if something go wrong or a repair is needed you can have it fedex overnight by virgin-galactic express ;p Anyway, my thoughts is if we can build a community to survive deep under water self-sufficiently for 5 years we may have a chance. Buzz is a great man no doubt about it. But too much space time must have finally got to him. We are not ready for manned missions to mars or should even consider it at this point in time. It will definitely be money wasted at this point in time. Lets focus locally (earth first and then the moon). If we can have a sustainable habitat on the moon and on earth then we will be in a good place...of which we are decades from achieving.

    June 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Pappas

      Well in terms of money and lives lost, it would be cheaper and would cost less lives to send a spaceship to Mars than what the oil spill cost. Think about that.

      12 men lost, 10-20 billion in cost so far for the oil leak.
      How many billion would it cost to send a spaceship to Mars and you'd never send 12 astronauts.

      June 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brendor

    The negative comments that have surfaced under the fold only remind me how uneducated many Americans are. Nearly every electronic device that you own is a by-product of grants from government research from the DOD or NASA. Have an appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice that these men and woman have made.

    Now go back to the couch and get fat. We have work to do.

    June 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. 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 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TheMuther

    I for one, have seen Total Recall and can say for a fact that not only was there life on Mars, it was intelligent life and we will repopulate the planet by the year 2084. "Hold my hand......open your mind...."

    June 25, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Pappas

      and if FF fake breasts weren't enough now, Heidi Pratt will have 3 FFs by then on Mars.


      June 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    Space exploration is not a waste of money. The day that humanity stops exploring and dreaming is the day that we are doomed as a species, even if we still are living. That is, if you can call what we are doing here on Earth, living....

    June 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dwighthuth

    It sounds like Chris has had too much x0files in his drink this moorning. The conspiracy theoriesorist, sorry if my typing is bad there is a gay ass banner right over where I am posting at and I cannot see what I am typing. The CT's ruin everything with their gross inuendo of this conspiracy or that conspiracy just so they can can have too run off at the mouth about. Mars did have water on it at one time as well as life but because Mars does not have a moon the extra gravity necessary to sustain life and an atmosphere was not present thus allowing the solar wind to strip the planet of the atmosphere. Did you know that JFK set up his own assination to make future presidents and other leaders of the planet fearfull for trying to send another mission to moon so that he could be remebered for being the only human to ever send a mission to the Moon. So there's the new fad people. start something trendy and out of self loating and greed set up your own assination blame in a a Marine and the Italians by using an Italian rifle and watch whole planet spin out of control as books are written based on the crap lousy reason why you set up your own assination to begin with,

    June 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ana4

      Mars has two moons: phobos and Deimos; not much more than rocks, but still 'moons.' Who spiked your lemonade?

      June 25, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Commodore64andAmiga4Ever

    Just because life may be found on Mars does not destroy religion at all. It helps us to seek out truth in the universe. Why do you think that mankind wants to go to the stars. It is because we want to know why we are here. There is more to life than just living on Earth. Even if you do believe that man evolved, something inside us is not satisfied with staying where we are at. Something pushes us to seek the truth, and whatever that may be. Science and religion work hand in hand when it comes to mankind and who they are and what they want.

    June 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SRay

    Brendor Great Point!

    June 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. J G

    Investing in space exploration and related technologies is a hundred thousand times better use of funds than welfare. One advances the human race, the other is just a waste of resources.

    June 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
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