It is said that a journalist has a vast ocean of knowledge straight from their finger tips, and something similar happened to Mars. 4,500 million years ago, our neighbor in the universe harbored enough water to cover the entire planet with an extensive but shallow sea with an average depth of only 137 meters, according to NASA announced today.
The implications are monumental. It was known that the planet had water, but not how much or for how long. “Mars was wet for about 1,500 million years, much longer than was necessary for the emergence of life on Earth,” says Geronimo Villanueva, an Argentine NASA engineer who has led the team of scientists has reconstructed the martian past .
Villanueva’s group has used the three most powerful infrared telescopes in the world, including the European Observatory in the Atacama Desert (Chile), to make “pictures” of the Martian atmosphere. Thanks to the accuracy of the devices, scientists have been able to analyze for six years the proportion of two types of water molecules: the familiar H2O and HDO version, in which a heavier variant of hydrogen, deuterium appears.
The balance between these two molecules is revealing. While the heavy version is trapped in the cycle of Martian water, the light version tends to escape into space. Noting the proportion of each of the two types present in the ice caps of the Martian poles, scientists can calculate the speed at which Mars loses water and, therefore, rewind to know how much water there was in its origins.
“Mars was wet much longer than was necessary for the emergence of life on Earth,” says Geronimo Villanueva Argentine engineer
The portrait of the planet makes 4,500 million published today in the journal Science and show that our neighbor was red but blue. The water, with a volume comparable to the terrestrial Arctic Ocean, not uniformly distributed across the planet way but focused on the sunken plains of the northern hemisphere. “It was a shallow ocean, 1.6 kilometers at most, similar to the Mediterranean Sea,” said Villanueva, born in Mendoza 36 years.
They were 20 million cubic kilometers of liquid water, the substrate of life. At the same time, in the same water and in the same corner of the universe, life on Earth arose, at least 3,500 million years ago, when accidentally a molecule that was able to make copies of itself was formed. The hypothesis of the scientific community is that the same thing could happen Mars. Now, thanks to Villanueva, we know that the Martian soup in which life could appear lasted between 1,000 and 1,500 million years. On Earth took only 800 million.
Argentine data show that Mars has lost 87% of the water from their primitive oceans. The remaining 13% was frozen on the south and north poles. But the new maps of the Martian atmosphere developed by NASA suggest another exciting possibility. Reveal the existence of microclimates, with different proportions of the two types of water, even though the planet is mostly deserted. “They are very striking variations, which may mean there is water reservoirs beneath the surface of Mars,” said Villanueva.
The engineer recalls that the European ExoMars mission plans to land on Mars in 2018, with a drill two meters. If confirmed the existence of groundwater, facilitate sending astronauts to Mars. Water is not only for drinking, but with the right technology can be used to obtain hydrogen as fuel ship back or to power a colony of humans.