Magazine article Science News

Martian Landscaping: Spacecraft Eyes Evidence of a Frozen Sea

Magazine article Science News

Martian Landscaping: Spacecraft Eyes Evidence of a Frozen Sea

Article excerpt

A flat region near the Red Planet's equator may hold a frozen ocean that was once as deep and big as the North Sea. The region's relatively craterless facade suggests that water gushed to the surface and froze recently, raising the possibility that life might exist today on or just beneath the surface, says Mars Express researcher John Murray. Last week, his team reported its analysis of images that were taken by the orbiting Mars Express spacecraft.

In this region, "you've had water above freezing beneath the face of Mars for thousands of millions of years," says Murray, a volcanologist and planetary scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. "This is the place to go look for life" he adds.

His group, which examined images taken with the spacecraft's High Resolution Stereo Camera, reported its findings on Feb. 25 at a European Space Agency briefing in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The team will present further details in the March 17 Nature.

Other researchers caution that the flat region, known as Elysium Planitia, might have been sculpted by flowing lava or a mixture of lava and water. This set of scenarios is far less amenable to the presence of life on Mars.

But Murray maintains that water, not lava, shaped Elysium Planitia. Solidified lava and ice would leave different marks on the surface, he says. For every criterion that he has applied, he told Science News, "the Elysium features correspond to the morphology of ice."

The few craters poking above the surface, for example, suggest a frozen sea, Murray says. …

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