The quest continues to determine if Mars is, or was, capable of sustaining life as new photos suggest that a giant surface crater may have once held lake waters.
A study of images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter uncovered new evidence indicating the desolate planet shows signs of a wet underground environment. Scientists believe that water may be hidden in crevices beneath the planet’s surface which suggests life was possible and may still exist.
Fox News reports that the possibility of lake formation was incurred from images of the planet’s McLaughlin Crater. The enormous crater boasts a width of approximately 57 miles with a depth proportion so large that underground water seems to have flowed into it during some point in history.
Supporting the suggestion of water in the area are carbonate and clay minerals currently found within the crater. Such minerals usually signify the presence of significant amounts of water. Researchers also point to the McLaughlin Crater’s bottom surface, which is comprised of layered, flat rocks, as another indicator that it could have held an ancient Mars lake.
The absence of significant inflow water channels into the crater leads researchers to believe that if the lake existed it must have been fed by groundwater seeping in from below.
Lead author of the research, Joseph Michalski of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona and London’s Natural History Museum, stated the following:
“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.”
An article by Slate writes that although Mars appears to now be a cold, dry, and dead planet, roughly a billion years ago it was warmer and had a thicker atmosphere. The planet’s terrain appears to still retain marks made by large bodies of water, whether from temporary flooding or long standing lakes and oceans.
Scientific data has continually indicated the presence of surface water, but where that water came from remains a mystery. The new discoveries surrounding the possibility of a Mars lake at the McLaughlin Crater might help lead to answers about the planet’s water and the life it may have supported.