Mars Express's OMEGA uncovers possible sites for life

April 21, 2006

By mapping minerals on the surface of Mars using the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, scientists have discovered the three ages of Martian geological history and found valuable clues as to where life might have developed.

The new work shows that large bodies of standing water might only have been present on Mars in the remote past, before four thousand million years ago, if they were present at all.

The results come from the OMEGA instrument on board Mars Express. In one Martian year (687 Earth days) of operation, OMEGA mapped 90 percent of the surface, allowing the identification of a variety of minerals and the processes by which they have been altered during the course of Martian history. The maps have allowed scientists to identify three geological eras for Mars.

The ‘phyllosian’ era, occurred between 4.5–4.2 thousand million years ago, the ‘theiikian’, took place between 4.2 and 3.8 billion years ago and the ‘siderikian’, began sometime around 3.8–3.5 billion years ago and continues today.

The era most likely to have supported life was the phyllosian, when clay beds could have formed at the bottom of lakes and seas, providing the damp conditions in which the processes of life could begin.

After this initial period, water largely disappeared from the planet’s surface either by seeping underground or being lost into space. Except for a few localised transient water events, Mars became dry.

The full results are published in the 21 April issue of the journal Science.

Source: BNSC

Explore further: NASA Mars orbiter preparing for Mars lander's 2016 arrival

Related Stories

Curiosity Mars rover tracks sunspots

July 13, 2015

While busily investigating bedrock types on Mars' Mount Sharp and preparing for a drill test, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has also been looking up frequently to monitor sunspots on the face of the sun that is turned away ...

How we found signs of 'recent' running water on Mars

June 24, 2015

A hot topic in science over the past few decades has been whether liquid water is present or has been present on Mars in the past few millions of years. But despite a lot of research no conclusive answer has been put forward ...

MAVEN results find Mars behaving like a rock star

June 22, 2015

If planets had personalities, Mars would be a rock star according to recent preliminary results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. Mars sports a "Mohawk" of escaping atmospheric particles at its poles, "wears" a layer of metal ...

Recommended for you

Magnetism at nanoscale

August 3, 2015

As the demand grows for ever smaller, smarter electronics, so does the demand for understanding materials' behavior at ever smaller scales. Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory are building a unique ...

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Study calculates the speed of ice formation

August 3, 2015

Researchers at Princeton University have for the first time directly calculated the rate at which water crystallizes into ice in a realistic computer model of water molecules. The simulations, which were carried out on supercomputers, ...

Small tilt in magnets makes them viable memory chips

August 3, 2015

University of California, Berkeley, researchers have discovered a new way to switch the polarization of nanomagnets, paving the way for high-density storage to move from hard disks onto integrated circuits.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.