Geometry helps to solve the mystery of Mars water

The central portion of Osuga Valles on Mars and similar features that are found in the arid deserts of Arizona, in place of that formed by the rising ground water in Florida.

(ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

The martian surface is crisscrossed with what appears to be the scars of running water, cut them in the dusty, dry surface. For years, researchers have argued about the source of this water, or it was fed by rainwater falling from the sky or from ice melting below the surface. By taking a statistical approach to the functions, a trio of researchers now advocate for rivers of rainwater.

The team studied the assigned river valleys on Mars, measure the angles where they are separated from each other. These angles are determined by how dry an area is, and whether the water emerged from the ground, among other things. They found that the corners are relatively low, making them the rule of the influence of groundwater as a major formation process for the channels.

The narrow corners of the valleys bear a stronger resemblance with those found in the Earth, on the barren landscapes, such as in the desert of Arizona. In Florida, where groundwater re-emerges, the river networks have a much wider angle between their tributaries. [Amazing Mars Rover Curiosity’s Latest Photos]

According to lead author Hansjörg Seybold, this implies that there must be a similar hydrological environment with sporadic heavy rainfall on Mars over a longer period of time. The rainwater would quickly over the surface, the design of the network of valleys.

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Seybold, a physicist at the ETH in Zurich, worked with terrestrial geologist James Kirchner, also at the ETH in Zurich. Edwin Kite, a planetary specialist at the University of Chicago, is the third member of the team. Their research was published June 27 in the journal Science Advances.

Although Mars is dry today, scientists believe that it once was in the possession of an ocean of water in a large part of the northern hemisphere, nearly 4 billion years ago. The thicker atmosphere used to have kept the liquid on the surface. As the water evaporates, it would be condensed around the volcanoes in the highlands south of the ocean, then rained down, carving out the river valleys.

“Recent research shows that there is more water on Mars [in the past] than previously assumed,” Seybold said in a statement.

But the Red Planet’s wet period was of short duration, lasting only a few hundreds of millions of years. The atmosphere was lost to space, and there is liquid on the surface quickly disappeared, leaving scientists to think of where the water went.

“It is likely that most of it evaporates in the space,” Seybold said. “But it also may still in the near of Mars.”

“This is a question for a future space mission,” he said.

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