Spacecraft observations of the landing area for one of NASA’s two Mars rovers now indicate there likely was an enormous sea or lake covering the region in the past, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.
Research Associate Brian Hynek of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics said data from the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey spacecraft now show that the region surrounding the Opportunity rover’s landing site probably had a body of water at least 330,000 square kilometers, or 127,000 square miles. That would make the ancient sea larger in surface area than all the Great Lakes combined, or comparable to Europe’s Baltic Sea.
In March, Opportunity instruments scanning the Meridiani Planum landing region confirmed that rock outcrops there, rich in the iron oxide mineral hematite, also contained the types of sulfate that only could have been created by interactions of water with Martian rock. Hynek used thermal emission data and camera images from the orbiting spacecraft to show such bedrock outcrops extend outward for many miles north, east and west. "If the outcrops are a result of sea deposition, the amount of water once present must have been comparable to the Baltic Sea or all of the Great Lakes combined," he said. Hynek speculated that future studies may show that the ancient sea was even larger. A paper on the subject by Hynek appears in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature.
Brian Hynek | EurekAlert!
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