Brown geologist finds evidence supporting ancient ocean on Mars

December 09, 1999

In an article to be published in Science magazine Dec. 10, Brown University planetary geologist James Head and five colleagues present topographical measurements which they say are consistent with an ocean that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago. The measurements were taken by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, an instrument aboard the unmanned spacecraft Mars Global Surveyor which is circling the planet.

Head's team set out to test the hypotheses of scientists who suggested the possibility of oceans on Mars in 1989 and 1991. The team used data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, which beamed a pulsing laser to Mars' surface. Scientists measured the time it took for the laser to return to the satellite; the laser traveled a shorter length of time from mountain peaks and longer from craters. MOLA is the first instrument to provide scientists with the information they used to construct a topographic map of the entire surface of the planet.

For years, scientists have known about channels in which water once flowed into the northern lowlands on the surface of Mars.

"The question is whether it collected in large standing bodies," Head said. "This is the first time we could get instruments to comprehensively test these ideas."

According to Head, the team has found four types of quantitative evidence that points to the possible ancient ocean: Head's team concludes that further tests are necessary, including analysis from meteorites from Mars and of landing sites, checking for the presence of salts that may be related to former oceans.

The importance of determining whether there were ancient oceans - and life - on Mars is that scientists may be able to learn more about long-term climate change and why climate changed on Mars, which has relevance to the future of the Earth, Head said.
-end-
Head is available for interviews at 401-863-2526.

Brown University

Related Mars Articles from Brightsurf:

Water on ancient Mars
A meteorite that originated on Mars billions of years ago reveals details of ancient impact events on the red planet.

Surprise on Mars
NASA's InSight mission provides data from the surface of Mars.

Going nuclear on the moon and Mars
It might sound like science fiction, but scientists are preparing to build colonies on the moon and, eventually, Mars.

Mars: Where mud flows like lava
An international research team including recreated martian conditions in a low-pressure chamber to observe the flow of mud.

What's Mars made of?
Earth-based experiments on iron-sulfur alloys thought to comprise the core of Mars reveal details about the planet's seismic properties for the first time.

The seismicity of Mars
Fifteen months after the successful landing of the NASA InSight mission on Mars, first scientific analyses of ETH Zurich researchers and their partners reveal that the planet is seismically active.

Journey to the center of Mars
While InSight's seismometer has been patiently waiting for the next big marsquake to illuminate its interior and define its crust-mantle-core structure, two scientists, have built a new compositional model for Mars.

Getting mac and cheese to Mars
Washington State University scientists have developed a way to triple the shelf life of ready-to-eat macaroni and cheese, a development that could have benefits for everything from space travel to military use.

Life on Mars?
Researchers from Hungary have discovered embedded organic material in a Martian meteorite found in the late 1970s.

New evidence of deep groundwater on Mars
Researchers at the USC Arid Climate and Water Research Center (AWARE) have published a study that suggests deep groundwater could still be active on Mars and could originate surface streams in some near-equatorial areas on Mars.

Read More: Mars News and Mars Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.