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Mars megafloods uncovered by geologists


A research project analysing data from NASA’s Curiosity rover has revealed that Mars once had megafloods unleashed on the planet’s surface.

Scientists from Jackson State University, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Hawaii conducted the research project – titled “Deposits from Giant floods in Gale Crater and their implications for the climate of early Mars” – was published via Scientific Reports in November.

The megaflood was predicted to have formed from the heat of a meteor’s impact, unleashing ice from Mars’ surface. The impact released carbon dioxide and methane from the planet, with the water vapour and gas release causing a short period of warm weather.

This led to the creation of torrential rain which filled Gale Crater and produced flash floods.

According to the scientists, this caused gigantic ripples, located in the sedimentary layers of Mars’ Gale Crater.

These “megaripples” or antidunes are approximately 10m high and lay 137m apart.

Antidunes are indicative of megafloods which occurred at Mars’ Gale Crater about four billion years ago. They resemble the features formed by melting ice on Earth two million years ago, lead author and Jackson State University physics professor Ezat Heydari said.

According to Alberto G Fairén, the co-author and an astrobiologist in the College of Arts and Sciences, early Mars once had an active geological presence.

“Early Mars was an extremely active planet from a geological point of view,” Fairén said.

“The planet had the conditions needed to support the presence of liquid water on the surface – and on Earth, where there’s water, there’s life.

“So early Mars was a habitable planet.

“Was it inhabited? That’s a question that the next rover Perseverance will help to answer.”

The Perseverance rover was launched on 30 July, 2020 and will reach Mars on 18 February, 2021.

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