Mars Emerging From Ice Age, Say Scientists

According to scientists, Mars is emerging from an ice age. Researchers say that the red planet’s ice began to recede roughly 370,000 years ago, which would have been Mars’ last ice age’s end. This information about Mars’ past was gleaned when scientists analyzed radar images looking deep inside the Martian polar ice caps, and it demonstrates that Mars is far from a dead planet, but rather a world that endures an everlasting cycle of climate change.

The Hindu reports that scientists made the announcement about Mars emerging from an ice age on Thursday, telling the world that they had made the discovery that roughly 87,000 cubic km of ice has built up at Mars’ poles in the time since the last Martian ice age ended, primarily at Mars’ north pole. This was determined through the use of satellite imagery.

Scientists studying Mars’ emergence from a recent ice age are incredibly interested in solving the puzzle of the red planets’ climate history. The more they discover, the more they believe that they are accumulating strong evidence that Mars’ surface was once home to fresh, flowing water in the form of lakes, oceans and rivers. If this is, in fact, the case, it strongly increases the possibility that Mars could have been home to abundant life in the past and could still harbor life today.

With the new ice measurements, scientist are now able to utilize computer simulations to model Mars’ climate, says Isaac Smith. Smith is a planetary scientist from the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, and he led the study that discovered that Mars is emerging from an ice age.

“Previously those models were unconstrained by observations so they started with guesses. Now they have more to run on.”

Mars Ice Age
The new research was also the first study to sync up a specific layer of Mars’ ice with corresponding geologic period of time, says Smith.

“Eventually we’d like to be able to do this for every layer.”

Mars is much colder, on average, than Earth. According to NASA, the red planet’s temperature may range from an extreme high of 70 degrees F at the equator in the middle of the day in the summer to a low of negative 225 F at the Martian poles.

Martian ice ages are different than those on Earth, too. On Mars, an ice age takes place when the poles are hotter than average and frozen water is more stable at the red planet’s lower latitudes. When Mars is making its transitions between ice ages and other climate periods, the surface of the planet can be scarred with distinctive markings. Often, these distinctive markings are etched as features into the planet’s ice.

ice mars close up
One example of such distinctive features include the dramatic slopes found by Smith and his colleagues in and along Mars’ frozen north pole. In other layers of the Martian ice, the ice was discovered to be flowing in the opposite direction.

According to researchers, Mars’ ice age and other notable climate cycles are likely influenced by Mars’ tilt and orbit, as well as changes to both. These factors directly impact how much of the sun’s light reaches Mars’ surface as well as how much of the surface of Mars is blanketed in sunlight at any given time.

Unlike Earth, which tilts only about two degrees, Mars has a very dramatic tilt of as much as 60 degrees. The extreme tilt of the planet results in profound climate change on the red planet, as well as obvious telltale signs that climate change is occurring.

According to EnGadget, this information contained in this week’s new study about Mars emerging from an ice age could hold information that is the key to unlocking the red planet’s past, and possibly its future.

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