Did Martians lurk in ancient floods?

A European spacecraft has identified regions of Mars that may have sheltered primitive forms of life. Photos and other data from the Mars Express probe suggest that several light-toned deposits were formed when springs of water burst onto the surface from underground.

They believe this groundwater had a greater role in shaping the red planet’s surface than was previously believed. And they say the sediments it left may have been home to martian microbes as the planet began to dry up.

The deposits – martian sediments that resemble some on Earth – are some of the most mysterious known on Mars. Before now, it had been suggested that other processes such as volcanism had produced them.

They were first discovered by the Viking spacecraft in the late 1970s and have since been discovered on a large scale in Arabia Terra, Chaotic Terrain and Valles Marineris, close to the Tharsis volcanic bulge.

Now, after studying results from the Mars Express orbiter, European Space Agency scientists propose that these sediments are actually younger than originally believed.

They are proposing that several of the layers of sediment may have been deposited by large-scale springs of groundwater that burst on to the surface, possibly at different times.

Because the deposits are relatively young and linked to water, they may also have sheltered primitive aliens from the drier and harsher climate in more recent times on Mars.

As we reported earlier, Mars Express scientist Dr John Murray has suggested that simple alien life forms may be in a form of hibernation in an equatorial region of Mars called Elysium.

Last month, NASA revealed that they had detected glaciers buried below the surface of Mars at latitudes away from the polar regions. They also have evidence that oceans once covered the planet.

Picture: A high-resolution view of Hebes Chasma, a rift almost 8,000 metres deep in Valles Marineris, the Grand Canyon of Mars, showing light-toned deposits. (Photo: ESA).

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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