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Exploring the Mysteries of Mars: Evidence of an Ancient Ocean and Other Phenomena

The Subtle Clues of the Red Planet

By Abdul Hannan SaifPublished 2 months ago 4 min read

The soil beneath your feet is red and dry. The place is cold. Rusty-colored dust is floating in the air. You make one step, then another. It's hard to move because of the thick layer of dust your feet are sinking into. You're on Mars, and you've come here after hearing some incredible news. These days, the so-called "red planet" indeed looks dry and dusty, but scientists think that this world might have been very different a long, long time ago.

They have found some evidence of a huge ocean that could have existed on the surface of Mars about 3.5 billion years ago, and this ocean probably covered hundreds of thousands of square miles. It all started with numerous satellite images of the surface of the red planet. They were snapped at different angles, and as a result, researchers managed to construct a relief map of the area. They charted out more than 4,000 miles of specific formations that had most likely been carved by rivers. Those formations could also be channels once carved out on the sea floor.

Scientists used the data gathered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2007. They analyzed the thickness of the ridges and their angles and locations. Their main goal was to explore the topographical depression called Aolis Dorsa. It turned out that all those years ago, this part of the red planet had been undergoing a series of constant changes. They could have been caused by the rapid movement of rocks pulled around by currents and rivers, as well as noticeable increases in sea level.

Researchers also noticed a pretty clear boundary that separated the Southern Highlands of Mars (elevated and highly cratered) from the smooth lowlands of the planet. It looked very similar to a shoreline left by a ginormous ocean. This all likely means that in ancient times, there indeed was an ocean on the surface of Mars, and a large one at that. What's even more exciting is that the existence of such an ocean might mean the existence of life.

This discovery can tell scientists a lot about the ancient climate on the red planet, as well as its evolution. We now know there had to be a period on Mars when the planet was quite warm and its atmosphere was thick enough to keep so much liquid water. What's even more incredible, the climate in the northern hemisphere of Mars 3 billion years ago could have resembled the one we have on Earth nowadays.

But then, where is this ocean now? What happened to it? Perhaps the climate of the red planet was becoming cooler, and the surface of the ocean froze. There's a theory claiming that these days, the ocean remains in its frozen state deep under a layer of rock debris and dust under a northern plane called Vasus Borealis. Or, the ocean's waters could have been lost to the atmosphere and eventually space through the process of atmospheric sputtering. During this process, atoms get knocked away from the atmosphere after colliding with high-energy particles coming from the Sun.

Anyway, the theory of an ocean that once covered a substantial part of Mars's Northern Hemisphere hasn't been confirmed yet. Yet, scientists are still arguing about its existence. As for now, Mars is a very cold world with an average temperature of -80°F. The planet's surface is rocky. It's covered with dry lake beds, craters, volcanoes, and canyons. The ocean that might have existed on Mars isn't the only awesome thing about this planet. Let's speak about those sandstorms raging on the red planet.

In movies, they're depicted as incredibly powerful forces of nature, destroying astronauts' camps and tearing their spaceships into pieces. But how much of it is true? Mars is indeed infamous for producing dust storms so massive, they can be seen by telescopes on Earth. They sometimes cover continent-sized areas and can last for weeks at a time. But besides them, there are much rarer storms that occur once in three Mars years, which is about 5 and a half Earth years. Such storms are larger and much more intense than regular ones. They encircle the entire planet. That's why scientists call them Global dust storms.

At the same time, it's unlikely that even a global dust storm could cause serious harm to astronauts or their equipment. Even though Martian storms are massive, the wind speed reaches 60 MPH tops. That's less than half the speed of most hurricane-force winds on Earth. Plus, this comparison of wind speeds can be kind of misleading. The atmosphere on Mars is just 1% or so as dense as the atmosphere on our planet. It means that the wind there needs to blow much faster to cause any damage or even fly a kite.

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About the Creator

Abdul Hannan Saif

Blogger | Writer | Explorer | wish to inspire, inform and help others to see fascinating discoveries and live a fulfilled life!

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