Sunday, July 8, 2012

Surprise! Mars is full of water

According to an article just published in the journal Geology, there is strong evidence indicating the existence of vast underground reserves of water on Mars. The finding, which has come as quite a surprise, it reinforces the idea that the Red Planet can, or could at some point, support life. And it increases the chances of establishing human colonies there in the near future.

The issue of "Martian water" has been debated for more than a century. First, the late nineteenth century, were the famous canals of Mars. Later, in full space age, came the discovery of ancient river valleys and sea revealing a past Martian water-rich surface.

And in 2003, finally, the Mars Odyssey was detected for the first time, small particles water ice just below the surface of Mars. Something that was confirmed some years later "in situ" by the Phoenix mission.
No doubt, then, that on the surface of Mars, or very near it, and there was no water. But things are not so clear at the time of establishing the existence or not of water reserves also in the basement of the planet. One issue that is of the utmost importance to understand the geological history (and probably biological) of this world so similar to Earth.
Now, for the first time a group of researchers led by Francis McCubbin, University of New Mexico, successful in providing strong evidence that in the interior of Mars is also water. And much, indeed. At least the same as on Earth ...
"The search for water in the solar system, says the article in Geology, is one of the main goals of planetary exploration science because water plays an important role in many processes geological and is required for biological processes occur as we understand them today. If we exclude the Earth, Mars is the most promising of the inner solar system to find water, and no doubt that water was the responsible for shaping many of the landscapes that can be seen today on the Martian surface. However, until now, the issue of water in the planet's interior remains unresolved. "
Analyzing the composition of two Martian meteorites (the Shergotty, killed in India in 1865 and the Queen Alexandria, found in 1994 in Antarctica), researchers have concluded that the Martian mantle (the layer of rock between the crust and core) contains between 70 to 300 parts per million of water, a surprisingly similar to Earth's mantle.

"Carambola cosmic"
Both meteorites are of volcanic origin and proceed, then, inside the Red Planet. They came to Earth at different times, but left Mars in the same period 2.5 million years ago as a result of the impact of a meteorite that blasted into space a lot of Martian rocks. In a sort of "cosmic fluke," some of those rocks after they landed here on Earth, bringing with them a treasure trove of information that, for now, can not be obtained directly from Mars by any other means.
In the words of Erik Hauri, one of the authors of the research, "we analyzed two meteorites that have very different histories. One was mixed with a considerable amount of items during their training, while the other does not." In both cases, the researchers looked for the water molecules present within apatite crystals, and used these molecules to determine the amount of water containing the original Martian rock the meteorites came.
The results were a surprise. Both rocks, in fact, suggest that the Martian mantle contains between 70 and 300 parts per million of water, an amount which is remarkably similar to that of the mantle. And since both meteorites contain the same percentage of water in spite of their different geological histories, researchers believe that water was incorporated into the mantle for billions of years, during formation of the planet itself.
The study also suggests the answer to another puzzle on Martian water. In particular, how they managed to reach the liquid element from the interior to the planet's surface. The researchers argue that this "migration" was due to volcanic activity. Source: EA

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