Despite previous findings over the past several decades, new research suggests that Mars may have oceans of water beneath its rocky surface.
According to scientists behind the study, ancient volcanic eruptions may have been a major source of water, creating habitable environments. Meteorites from the planet also contain large amounts of hydrated minerals with water incorporated into their structure.
The study authors estimate there is between 70 and 300 parts per million of water in the Mars mantle, enough to cover the planet in water 660 to 3,300 feet deep. The upper mantle of the Earth only contains 50 to 300 parts per million of water. This means Mars has probably had water in its interior since its formation, and if this is true, it could also be the case for other rocky planets such as Mercury and Venus.
“Earth is not unique,” said study leader Francis McCubbin, a planetary scientist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “We should be finding water nearly everywhere in the solar system.”
The team discovered water while analyzing large chunks of meteorites that had pummeled into the Earth from the Martian surface. When examining a mineral called apatite, scientists found hydroxyl ions, a form of water made of an oxygen atom bound to a hydrogen atom. This means standard water, created by oxygen bound to two hydrogens, was also present in the magma, but since hydroxyl is more tightly bound to rock than water, they stayed behind when the rest of the water boiled out of cooling lava. The amount of hydroxyl gave a good indication of how much water could well be in the planet’s interior.
The meteorites studied were also about 150 to 350 million years old, meaning larger eruptions throughout the planet’s history probably brought large amounts of water to the surface, even during periods when ancient Mars was warm enough to have water on the surface.
These findings make it seem promising that scientists may not be too far off from finding indications of past life on Mars. Do you think there may be other life, however small, in our own solar system?