Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have discovered what is believed to be the last place that potentially habitable surface water existed on Mars. The scientists say that a large 18-square-mile salt flat is indicative of a large evaporated body of water.
Research shows the “long-lived” lake would have been around during the time period warm enough to sustain a large amount of surface water. The size and time boundary for the Mars lake indicates that it was the last sizable body of water on the Red Planet’s surface making it the potential spot that life on Mars eventually came to an end.
Space.com reports that satellite images show large areas of sodium chloride (salt) deposits along the southern surface of Mars. These deposits may indicate areas that were previously home to large bodies of briny water. Researchers with the University of Colorado have been studying the salt flats on Mars and claim that an 18-square-mile ancient lake was likely the last place life would have survived on the Red Planet.
“Mars turned cold and dry long ago, but researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have discovered evidence of an ancient lake that likely represents some of the last potentially habitable surface water ever to exist on the Red Planet.”
A planetary geologist at Arizona State University, Phil Christensen, agrees with the findings and notes the presence of the salt flats indicates that large bodies of briny water once flowed on the Mars surface. Christensen notes that the dried-up brine pools would not have been as acidic as other bodies of water on the planet; therefore, they could have been a habitat for life on Mars. Christensen says salt is a preservative, and that in the quest to find proof of past life on Mars, the salt flats would be the best place to start.
“Salt is a fantastically good preserver, so maybe there’s not only life but also organic compounds preserved there. We need to send a rover to these places. I hope some day we will explore these salt sites on the ground.”
The Daily Mail points out that though the Red Planet is currently too cold and dry to support life as we know it, experts say that due to cyclical tilts, Mars could soon have flowing water on its surface once again.
“One recent study claims water on Mars was flowing on the planet much more recently than first thought – and experts believe it is likely to appear again relatively soon.”
With the discovery of the salt flats on Mars, should future plans for the Mars rover be put into place to gather information on the salt deposits from the ground?
[Image Credit: NASA]