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article imageNew evidence for ancient ocean on Mars

By Martin Laine     Feb 18, 2014 in Science
Up to one-third of the surface of Mars may once have been covered by a vast ocean, a new study of the planet suggests. And because water is needed for life, proving the presence of water has become the Holy Grail of Mars research for more than a century.
During the early 20th Century, for example, American astronomer Percival Lowell popularized the notion that the pattern of lines visible on Mars through a telescope were, in fact, canals used to channel water to an advanced subterranean Martian civilization.
Lowell’s theory was eventually discredited, and most astronomers believed there was no water on the planet — until the 1980s, when the Viking spacecraft sent back pictures — not of Martian-made canals — but of landscape formations consistent with the movement of water.
In the most recent study, University of Texas, Austin, geologist Lorena Moscardelli turned her attention to boulder fields in the planet’s northern plain, which may have been the ocean floor, wondering how they got there. The general perception is that the ocean floor would be made up of fine silt, not boulders.
The plains are bordered by high ridges that many believed formed the coastline of the ancient ocean, known as Oceanus Borealis. Lorena Moscardelli, author of the study, theorized that the boulders were brought to the area by a series of underwater landslides.
“We know that ‘submarine landslides’ can transport big boulders — sometimes as big as a bus — for hundreds of kilometers into the deep-water of the Earth’s oceans,” she said, in an article of the physics.org website. She makes the point that she did not discover the boulder field — they’ve been known about for some time.
She is, however, offering a new interpretation of how they could have been formed. To prove her point, she studied several locations on Earth where a similar phenomenon has occurred, including the Pennsylvanian Jackfork Group in Arkansas.
Some have suggested that the boulder fields were formed by meteorites, but Moscardelli disagrees.
“How do you explain boulder fields covering thousands of square kilometers without any impact crates around?” she said, “The submarine hypothesis provides a feasible alternative.”
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