Recent studies by NASA reveals that an ancient ocean once existed on Mars–an ocean as large as Earth’s Arctic Ocean.
Geronimo Villanueva, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper on Science magazine, said, ““Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space.” The study is based on measuring water signatures in Mars’s atmosphere.
About 4.3 billion years ago, Mars possibly had water deep enough to cover its entire surface in a layer about 450 feet deep, if the surface was plain and the water evenly distributed. In reality though, since Mars has a topography of plains and mountains just like Earth, the water would have formed an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere.
Over the ages, Mars’s atmosphere thinned and the water was lost to space as well. The remnants of the water that once was concentrated into heavy water that is now found in the polar ice caps of the Red Planet. Imagine how Mars looked 4+ billion years ago–not the dusty red planet, but a little blue jewel in space.
The most important takeaway comes right after–how long the water had been present on Mars and the implications of its presence on . . . creation of life.
“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than was previously thought, suggesting it might have been habitable for longer,” said Michael Mumma, a senior scientist at Goddard and the second author on the paper.
Which means, if the oceans on Mars existed for billions of years, it is possible for life to have evolved in that environment just like it did on Earth. There could also have been a transfer of life from Earth via asteroids or vice-versa. Who knows, maybe we are descendants of Martians after all.
Seriously though–it seems clear that there was a habitat suitable for life on Mars, but it remains to be seen if there was indeed life on Mars.