Astronomy
Surface of Mars (2004)

Are channels discovered on Mars’ surface created by lava or water?



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Surface of Mars (2004)
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"Are channels discovered on Mars' surface created by lava or water?"
Caption: Surface of Mars (2004)
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Image by: NASA
© Public Domain http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nasa_mars_opportunity_rock_water_150_eng_02mar04.jpg

In 2011, in what was deemed an astonishing discovery, scientists found evidence that running water may potentially exist on neighboring planet Mars. The detection of possible water came from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which found slopes carved into the surface of Mars. The lines were found after Lujendra Ojha, a University of Arizona student, used a computer algorithm on pictures of the Mars surface taken by the MRO.

Upon examination, scientists believed this potential flow of water may have been saltwater and seasonal in nature because in this scenario it could stay liquid in colder temperatures being Mars is so much colder than Earth. While this possibility was exciting, experts were not 100 percent sure the lines were indicative of running water.

Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, had told Space.com, "We've been trying to come up with alternate ideas, maybe some sort of dry avalanching process, but none of them work," McEwen said. "Why does this only seem to happen at certain temperatures and latitudes, and why darken and fade? Briny water seems to be the most viable explanation for these observations so far."

However, other scientists disagree.

According to David Leverington, a Texas Tech University professor, the lines likely have a different origin. Leverington said that the channels were likely created by "fast-moving, low-viscosity lava flows."

Texas Tech University reported Leverington explained, "Many scientists realize there are issues with aqueous interpretations of these channels," adding, "They recognize that if these systems formed by giant subsurface flows of water, there would need to have been extraordinarily high ground permeability, up to a million or more times greater than what we’d expect for the crust of the Earth, just to allow sufficient amounts of water to make it to the outflow locations and erupt to the surface."

While the Martian outflow resembles flood-like conditions formed by giant glacial lakes on Earth, the canyons on Mars do not illuminate like attributes such as "obvious river deposits" and the fact the Martian lines do not "terminate in delta-like, sediment-laden mouths." Leverington indicated the channels fade into "vast plains composed of volcanic basalt." He also said the attributes seen on Mars are similar to what has been observed on the moon and Venus in terms of volcanic channels.

Previously, evidence of water had been found on Mars, but had been in the form of ice, and was located mainly at the poles. Although, more recent reports, as CNN noted in October 2013, suggest there is water on Mars.

The possibility of running water on Mars is exciting because of the potential to find extraterrestrial life. However, if Levergington is correct in his assessment, than the possibility of life significantly decreases, as ABC News put it, "the odds of life on Mars plummet to near zero."

Not all scientists agree with the lava theory and still hold out hope for water and either past or present life on Mars. Scientists are examining soil collected from the Mars Phoenix lander and some findings indicate soil may be similar to Earth's. The Phoenix mission is notable for making the discovery of ice on Mars.

Levington's study was published in the September 2011 issue of the journal Geomorphology.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
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  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44243453/ns/technology_and_science-space/#.TlTvskfcxvY
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/06/mars-phoenix-tw/