Water on Mars could be active around the dusty planet’s near-equatorial regions, according to researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), US. The incredible claim was made following an extensive study of potential groundwater sources outside of Mars’ southern pole. In mid-2018, research carried out in partnership with the Italian Space Agency revealed the presence of water under Mar’s south polar ice caps. Researchers are now excited at the possibility of discovering “active systems” of water deep beneath the ground and on the surface.
Assam Heggy, a USC research scientist, said geographical features near Mars’ equator suggest the presence of running water streams.
Until now, these so-called recurrent slope linea were associated with seasonal flows of surface waters.
However, the new USC research proposes the features are the result of a different process.
Dr Heggy said: “We propose an alternative hypothesis that they originate from a deep pressurised groundwater source which comes to the surface moving upward along ground cracks.”
The USC researchers have proposed water on Mars exists within the scope of a broader geographical area than previously thought.
If confirmed, an active system of water some 2,460ft (750m) underground could be forcing water to the surface.
Study co-author Abotalib Z Abotalib, a postdoctoral research associate at USC, noted similar behaviour of water systems in the aridest regions on Earth.
He said: “We have seen the same mechanisms in the North African Sahara and in the Arabian Peninsula, and it helped us explore the same mechanism on Mars.”
According to Dr Heggy and Dr Abotalib, cracks in Mars’ numerous craters and deep underground pressure have helped water springs to well up to the surface.
They originate from a deep pressurised groundwater source which comes to the surface
Assam Heggy, University of South California
The water then ran along the craters’ walls, leaving behind the distinct recurrent slope linea.
The scientists wrote in their study abstract: “The recurring slope lineae on Mars have been hypothesised to originate from snow melting, deliquescence, dry flow or shallow groundwater.
“Except for the dry flow origin, these hypotheses imply the presence of surficial or near-surface volatiles, placing the exploration and characterisation of potential habitable environments within the reach of existing technology.
“Here we present observations from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, heat-flow modelling and terrestrial analogues, which indicate that the source of recurring slope lineae could be natural discharge along geological structures from briny aquifers within the cryosphere, at depths of approximately 750 m.
“Spatial correlation between recurring slope lineae source regions and multi-scale fractures – such as joints and faults – in the southern mid-latitudes and in Valles Marineris suggests that recurring slope lineae preferably emanate from tectonic and impact-related fractures.
“We suggest that deep groundwater occasionally surfaces on Mars in present-day conditions.”
The study’s findings come after researchers analysing data obtained by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found evidence of “bouncing” water molecules on the Moon.
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