"We’re finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers."
Nowadays, the surface of Mars is an expanse of desolate plains and craters, covered in ruddy-colored iron oxide dust. In its distant past, though? It just might have been crisscrossed with lush streams, flowing with life-giving water.
At least, that's the claim by scientists at Pennsylvania State University who say they've uncovered evidence the Red Planet was once home to many flowing rivers — an evocative vision of our planetary neighbor's distant history, and one with a tantalizing capacity to harbor life.
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, performed simulations of erosion over time on Mars' surface using data from NASA's Curiosity rover, satellite images, and even scans of the sediment strata in the Gulf of Mexico's seafloor.
The simulations yielded landscape features that looked suspiciously similar to bench-and-nose landforms, a type of crater found all over Mars. All told, the findings seem to suggest that the craters are eroded river beds from Mars' watery past.
"We’re finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers," said Penn State geosciences professor and lead author Benjamin Cardenas in a statement. "We see signs of this all over the planet."
This hasn't been the only study that's delved into the Red Planet's distant past this year. French scientists published a study that said the Martian volcano Olympus Mons has signs that it could have been an island surrounded by water, and NASA's Curiosity uncovered evidence of ancient water ripples on the planet's surface. The agency's Perseverance rover also found what could be signs of a swift-flowing river from billions of years ago.
And none of that work even gets into the ice locked away in Mars' polar regions or under the red dusty landscape.
Finding evidence of water from the past and in the present on Mars is important because it further bolsters the notion that Earth isn't the only place with the conditions that gave rise to life. So far, no evidence on Mars has pointed directly to extraterrestrial life — but we're slowly getting a sense that the potential was there.
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