Space

Ancient Martian rivers revealed in newest satellite images

Ancient Martian rivers reveale...
ESA's Mars Express orbiter has captured some stunning images of dry riverbeds on Mars
ESA's Mars Express orbiter has captured some stunning images of dry riverbeds on Mars
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The ancient riverbeds are clear in this image snapped by the Mars Express orbiter
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The ancient riverbeds are clear in this image snapped by the Mars Express orbiter
ESA's Mars Express orbiter has captured some stunning images of dry riverbeds on Mars
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ESA's Mars Express orbiter has captured some stunning images of dry riverbeds on Mars
This topographic image shows how the water would have flowed downhill from north to south (right to left): red is the highest ground, turning yellow, green and blue the lower you go
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This topographic image shows how the water would have flowed downhill from north to south (right to left): red is the highest ground, turning yellow, green and blue the lower you go
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The Red Planet is notoriously dry and dusty, but its scarred surface shows that that wasn't always the case. A new set of photos from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter demonstrates some pretty clear evidence of an ancient river network that once wound across the Martian landscape.

While modern day Mars is drier than any Earthly desert, it's believed that roughly 4 billion years ago the Red Planet was much bluer, with a northern ocean bigger than the Atlantic. Over the years, the many eyes on Mars have spotted signs of ancient shorelines, lakes, flood plains, rivers and glaciers. That makes the newest European Space Agency (ESA) shots not particularly surprising, but no less beautiful.

The ancient riverbeds are clear in this image snapped by the Mars Express orbiter
The ancient riverbeds are clear in this image snapped by the Mars Express orbiter

These images were snapped on the southern highlands of Mars, a region pockmarked with craters and rich with evidence of old waterways. In this case, that takes the form of a branching network of valleys, snaking across the landscape to form shapes that are instantly recognizable as the handiwork of water.

Judging by the topography, water seems to have flowed downhill from north to south, which is right to left in these shots. The valleys left behind are up to 2 km wide and as deep as 200 m in places. That's particularly clear in the topographic view, where red is the highest ground, and it turns yellow, then green and blue the lower you go.

This topographic image shows how the water would have flowed downhill from north to south (right to left): red is the highest ground, turning yellow, green and blue the lower you go
This topographic image shows how the water would have flowed downhill from north to south (right to left): red is the highest ground, turning yellow, green and blue the lower you go

The structures resemble drainage systems seen here on Earth, suggesting they were formed as excess water ran off from stronger rivers and made its own way downhill.

While the bulk of that water has likely been lost to space, there are indications that some of it is still locked away underground, in the form of ice sheets or even liquid lakes. These stashes could be vital resources for eventual human colonists.

Source: ESA

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3 comments
DanielAFerraraJr
Looks to me as if a fozen asteroid landed and possibly broke apart and melted leaving traces of water flow.
Nobody
It amuses me how many people talk about terra forming Mars to habitable conditions as if it were possible. Mars has already been "terra" formed by time to it's current thin atmosphere and dry barren surface. With such low gravity and lack of a magnetic field to protect it from the solar wind, any atmosphere created would just as quickly be lost into space. Any remaining water harvested would be limited and not readily available on most of the planet. Cosmic radiation would force any colonists underground to live like moles. Short visits could be possible but long term colonization would quickly be a dead end. The mining of any rare element would probably be cost prohibitive. Past or current life there would be unlikely due to wet conditions not lasting long enough to develop any complex life forms. Mars is interesting but I suspect it will be disappointing. Hopefully, we will be repaid with some new spin off technologies gained by just getting there. Time will tell.
Varditer
Even though the specialists thought that there was water locked away underground, they never claimed that there was a river network in Mars. This may be an explanation for the signs of lakes, rivers, and glaciers. This can also be hope for the people who think that the colonization of Mars is possible.