Mars could have had a huge ocean three billion years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — A new study has shown that 3 billion years ago, a liquid ocean could have existed on the surface of Mars. Moreover, according to the authors of the study, such an ocean could remain liquid even if the temperature on the planet’s surface fell below the freezing point of water, thanks to the constant circulation of water and periodic coastal rains.

At the end of the last century, NASA landed the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars to try to answer once and for all the question of whether there was surface water on the red planet in the past. Together with a number of subsequent missions, some of which are still active to this day, these rovers uncovered evidence that seems to confirm that Mars did indeed have a vast ocean in the past, perhaps even with huge surface lakes and rivers.

However, many climate models depicting the time when this surface water could have existed show that the conditions for a wet and warm Mars or a cold and dry Mars do not match. Hoping to correct this discrepancy, researchers at the University of Paris-Saclay have run new simulations that not only support the wet Mars hypothesis, but also show how the vast ocean could survive the cold to remain liquid on the planet’s surface.

“Determining the climate of Mars approximately 3 billion years ago is a difficult task, as surface features do not indicate either a warm and humid climate or a cold and dry climate at that time,” explains a press release announcing the new simulations. “Frederick Schmidt and his colleagues conducted numerical climate simulations to assess whether a third option, a cold and humid climate, could be plausible.”

After running simulations, Schmidt and his colleagues discovered a unique set of circumstances under which a liquid ocean could persist in the planet’s northern low-lying basin even if the average global temperature was below freezing. This, they say, is “due to oceanic circulation, which could regionally heat the surface up to 4.5°C”.

In addition, simulations have shown that in such a scenario, the planet could experience “moderate precipitation near the coastline and in the northern ocean, as well as frozen ice sheets in the southern highlands” that would help replenish this ocean through a process called glacial flow.

Essentially, ocean water circulation and periodic precipitation could allow Mars to maintain a moist surface ocean even in cold climates, a scenario the researchers describe as both wet and cold.

While the authors of the study offer a sophisticated solution to an even more complex problem, the set of conditions they propose is the first to readily agree with previous climate data, some of which seem to prove a wet Martian past, while others show that temperature makes such a wet past. especially difficult.

As is often the case, more data will be needed to determine the conditions that existed on Mars many years ago. However, with numerous scientific missions still operating on and around the planet, as well as others planned for the coming decade, this latest exploration may at least offer future Mars explorers a realistic path to the ancient Martian surface ocean that matches those already available. data.

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