Mars was a “planet of rivers” that could have efficiently harbored life, a new study suggests

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Covered in reddish iron oxide dust, Mars does not seem like a planet that could have harbored life. However, a new study by Penn State stated, “We see signs of this all over the planet.”

Life on Mars

Benjamin Cardenas, assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State and lead author of a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, stated, “We’re finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers.” He continued in a statement, “Mars could have had far more rivers than previously believed, which certainly paints a more optimistic view of ancient life on Mars.”

The scientist said, “It offers a vision of Mars where most of the planet once had the right conditions for life.” Cardenas added that we need to learn more to understand better “how these river deposits can be interpreted stratigraphically, thinking about rocks today as layers of sediment deposited over time.”

Cardenas also said, “This analysis is not a snapshot, but a record of change. What we see on Mars today is the remnants of an active geologic history, not some landscape frozen in time.”

Looking into Martians’ past

The study used numerical models to simulate erosion that occurred on Mars. It found crater-like foundations that were perceived as ancient riverbeds.

Cardenas said, “This suggests that there could be undiscovered river deposits elsewhere on the planet and that an even larger section of the Martian sedimentary record could have been built by rivers during a habitable period of Mars’s history.”

The researcher concluded, “On Earth, river corridors are so important for life, chemical cycles, nutrient cycles, and sediment cycles. Everything is pointing to these rivers behaving similarly on Mars.”

NASA Study concluded that life on Mars was possible

A NASA study published in July found organic molecules present in stones where a lake once was. Andrew Steele, a Carnegie Institution staff scientist who was involved in the study, said, “Mars is exciting and still may have signs of life.” She added in a statement, “But it is also teaching us about how the building blocks of life can form.”

Steele and her colleagues examined rocks from the Red Planet, where humans have yet to set foot. But, there are indications that this could change in the near future. Furthermore, NASA plans for astronauts to visit the Moon in 2025 for the first time since 1972.

NASA has already tested MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), which would assist astronauts during future visits to Mars.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover

In July, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover collected samples from the Red Planet. Ken Farley, a Perseverance project scientist from Caltech in Pasadena, explained, “Pebbles and boulders found in a river are messengers from afar.” The scientist continued, “While the water that created the Martian riverbed that Perseverance is currently exploring evaporated billions of years ago, the story carried by those waters remains fresh, stored in conglomerate rock.”

“We’re taking a page from the past. Prospectors looking for gold or diamonds in the old days often looked in rivers to determine whether there was any deposit of interest upstream. No need to hike up there to see – let the river do the work,” Farley added.

The main focus is on Mars astrobiology, and it is all part of the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, which includes the Artemis missions. Artemis promises to “land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.”

The idea that there is life outside Earth is not new, but so far, humans have failed to find compelling evidence. Encountering extraterrestrials has occupied the minds of scientists, artists, and enthusiasts for a long time, and hopefully, further expeditions will expand human knowledge.