Mars Express's OMEGA uncovers possible sites for life

Apr 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: Start of dwarf planet mission delayed after small mix-up

Related Stories

The solar system and beyond is awash in water

Apr 08, 2015

As NASA missions explore our solar system and search for new worlds, they are finding water in surprising places. Water is but one piece of our search for habitable planets and life beyond Earth, yet it links ...

The pale blue dot and other 'selfies' of Earth

Apr 06, 2015

Twenty-five years ago a set of images were taken that provided a unique view of Earth and helped highlight the fragility of our existence, and the importance of our stewardship.

Recommended for you

The riddle of galactic thin–thick disk solved

Apr 24, 2015

A long-standing puzzle regarding the nature of disk galaxies has finally been solved by a team of astronomers led by Ivan Minchev from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP), using state-of-the-art ...

Giant cosmic tsunami wakes up comatose galaxies

Apr 24, 2015

Galaxies are often found in clusters, with many 'red and dead' neighbours that stopped forming stars in the distant past. Now an international team of astronomers, led by Andra Stroe of Leiden Observatory ...

User comments : 0

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.