Depressions on surface of Mars offer clues for life

Posted Jan 15, 2017 by Tim Sandle
Was there life on Mars? This question continues to interest many people. The area to focus on, according to a new study, are the surface features, especially the depressions located close to volcanoes.
An artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about four billion years ago. The young plan...
An artist’s impression shows how Mars may have looked about four billion years ago. The young planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 metres deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’s northern hemisphere, and in some regions reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometers.
ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (
The question of life on Mars (previously or even currently) is being considered by NASA and other research institutes. A new theory, based on scans of the red plant’s topography, suggests that depressions formed in the regions of volcanoes could be the areas for a future space probe to focus on. The reason is there may be life-centric chemicals and minerals in the area. The data has come from analysis of images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009.
The idea has come from researchers based at the University of Texas at Austin. According to lead astrophysicist Joseph Levy: “We were drawn to this site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability — water, heat and nutrients.”
The likely sites were revealed through stereoscopic imaging technology. The images were rendered into 3D to allow for a detailed analysis. This allowed measurements of shape, appearance and size to be made. These dimensions allowed an assessment of volcanic impact, with the size of the impact being proportionate to the likelihood of life-supporting minerals.
One volcano in particular stands out. The volcano has a large impact zone and there is a funnel-like shape where material appears to have sloped downwards. These areas – the North Hellas and Galaxias depressions — could be sufficiently mineral rich. The areas are concentrically fractured resembling a bulls-eye and they have a similar appearance to areas that are rich in minerals on Earth.
With the Galaxias area in particular, the researchers write: “The possibility of liquid water formation during or subsequent to volcanism or an impact could generate locally-enhanced habitable conditions, making these features tantalizing geological and astrobiological exploration targets.”
The research is published in the journal Icarus. The research paper is titled “Candidate volcanic and impact-induced ice depressions on Mars.”