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An elevation colored map shows the location of the Lyot crater in Mars's northern hemisphere. Height is shown in blue to red, low to high.  (Source: European Space Agency)

Stars denote phyllosilicate deposits in the Lyot crater on Mars. Blue bands show the areas observed by the OMEGA instrument while red boxes indicate sites discovered by CRISM.  (Source: European Space Agency)
Crater observations show a wet past.

Similar to the Venus Express project, DailyTech has been covering news and information received from the European Space Agency's Mars Express for the last four years. Launched in June of 2003, the probe made orbital insertion of Mars's near-space in December of the same year. Its highly eccentric orbit brings it as close as 300km to the planet, and swings it out as far as 10,100km, all in the span of seven hours.

In the past four years, we've seen Mars Express show possible locations for past lifenumerous and deep water ice deposits on the planet's south pole, how its violently volcanic past may have helped shape the planet's current surface, cooperation between ESA and NASA in relation toNASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, and evidence of possible life still existing in the Martian soil.

Today the ESA released information pertaining to liquid water that probably once covered at least portions of the planet. Phyllosilicates, hydrated clay minerals, are a tell-tale sign of water and the Mars Express orbiter has confirmed several locations where the mineral still exists on or near the surface.

One such site, the Lyot crater, located in the planet's northern hemisphere, shows many such deposits. This is significant because until this discovery, only the southern hemisphere of Mars was known to have been graced by liquid water. The Lyot crater itself is approximately 210km in diameter and the data returned from the OMEGA instrument aboard Mars Express and the CRISM instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows at least 14 sites with phyllosilicates present.

Craters like Lyot are prime locations to search for these signs of past water as they are often created by high-speed impacts where the impactor pierces a kilometer or more into Mars's crust. These deep wounds reveal more data on the planet's ancient past than many others and make them of particular interest for the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter teams. In total, 91 impact sites were studied and no less than nine of these sites have been shown to have phyllosilicates.

Jean-Pierre Bibring, principal investigator for the French OMEGA instrument aboard Mars Express explains of the results from the craters studied, "they are rich in iron and magnesium, but less in aluminum. Together with the close proximity of olivine, which is easily modified by water, this indicates that the exposure to water lasted only tens to hundreds of millions of years."

While this indicates that Mars was once dotted, if not heavily covered in water, this timeframe is a fraction of the time that oceans have been lingering on Earth. The chance that any carbon-based life had developed past its infant stages in that time period are slim, but not without hope.

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I'm not an expert but...
By Smartless on 6/25/2010 2:56:31 PM , Rating: 4
Isn't it possible that the asteroid itself brought those minerals as well as the water? I mean these guys are the experts but isn't always possible that instead of exposing the layers beneath, its just pieces of the asteroid on top? Honest question.

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By LeviBeckerson on 6/25/2010 3:07:08 PM , Rating: 3
I don't see why it's not possible.

But consider that an asteroid crashing into a planet is a pretty catastrophic event at the impact site. It seems to me like any sort of evidence of water at the time would be vaporized during the resulting frackas. But if that impact happened and then water flowed or settled by some other means (rain or other precipitation) into the crater, and then later evaporated or froze into the surface, it would be much more likely for these phyllosilicates to survive.

Alternately I guess they could have been exposed in the crater after having lay much deeper in the crust and somehow survived the impact because the surface layer absorbed most of the impact.

Perhaps I'll send some e-mails and see if I can get some clarification on how the scientists think the minerals become exposed in the crater. :)

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By Reclaimer77 on 6/25/2010 4:18:21 PM , Rating: 2
Actually many scientists believe the first water this planet had ever seen was brought to it from asteroid impacts. So numerous that the resulting steam helped build the atmosphere and lead to rainfalls that lasted millions of years.

I frankly don't see any other way it could have happened.

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By LeviBeckerson on 6/25/2010 4:52:16 PM , Rating: 4
I can't imagine the number impacts it would have taken to bring as much water to Earth as there is.

On the other hand, I imagine the primordial solar system was a pretty hectic place.

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By Reclaimer77 on 6/25/2010 6:59:50 PM , Rating: 2
Well according the our best minds, billions of years ago Earth was a molten ball because of the incalculable amount of meteor and asteroid impacts.

I don't know if that's right, or how they can tell, but that's what I have read and watched on Discovery Channel.

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By TSS on 6/26/2010 9:15:49 AM , Rating: 2
Using discovery channel science it's pretty darned easy to explain why there is so much water on earth :p

Earth, compared to our sun, is *tiny*. Now, it is said our solar system came into existance from an exploding star, the resulting gas cloud is which our sun and planets formed from. It might be fair to assume that this star was quite a bit bigger then our sun, thus, contained more hydrogen.

Stars burn Hydrogen as their fuel. Once that is burned, the star collapses to increase greater pressures for helium to burn (which is the next in the fusion line). once that is gone it burns heavyer and heavyer elements untill the critical limit has been reached and it explodes.

Somewhere along the line, it'll have burned oxygen. Now considering the size of stars and the amount of fuel needed to keep fusion reactions going, it's unprobable every single drop of hydrogen is burned before helium starts burning. There will be some left, probably several earth's worth of molecules. the same with oxygen.

The star blows up, these elements stay within the gas cloud from which then our system is formed. Since hydrogen and oxygen combine to form... water, every planet in theory should have water.

But then there's the properties of water to consider. hydrogen and oxygen give water and energy. the reverse is also true, water and energy gives oxygen and hydrogen. A big ball of molten rock is alot of energy released into the atmosphere where these gasses reside. On Mercury and Venus, maybe enough to prevent the gasses from ever combining.

The earth is 4.7 billion years old. To illustrate, from now to the beginning of the dinosaurs is probably about that .7. So lets say it took 1 billion years to cool the earth off to only the heat of the sun, rather then a hot cloud of gas (big star explosions = big cooloff times).

At some point the heat(heat=energy) from the surface and the sun will no longer be enough to keep the elements seperated, thus, oxygen and hydrogen combine to form water. On planets where this didn't happen, it's simply because either heat (mercury, venus) or pressure (gas giants like jupiter) provide the energy needed to keep it from forming water.

I'm by no means a scientist so i don't know if any of this is more then just my fabrication, but considering the galactic sizes where talking here (, it seems logical to me. If it isn't ya can always say some dude created it 6000 years ago :p

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By SPOOFE on 6/27/2010 12:15:31 PM , Rating: 2
billions of years ago Earth was a molten ball because of the incalculable amount of meteor and asteroid impacts.

The "molten ball" and "incalculable amount of... impacts" both have the same cause lying in the formation of our solar system. Earth was a molten ball because it started as a huge amount of dust and smaller debris, coalesced, and the initial pressures of collapse caused the heat that "melted" our planet together; over time, the surface cooled (faster than the center, which is why the core is still molten), and cracked, giving us tectonic plates.

Anyway, at the early stages of the solar system (during the coalescing/heating/cooling phase of our planet), other bits of matter and debris were experiencing a similar phenomenon on a smaller scale, giving us asteroids and other bits of space missiles that pounded early Earth, probably giving us a bunch of the heavy metals in our crust (remember, during the "molten" phase, all heavier metals would sink, explaining why the core is thought to be mostly iron, and the crust is heavily dominated by silicates).

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By Ranari on 6/25/2010 6:45:26 PM , Rating: 2
Finding water on Mars isn't that surprising considering hydrogen and oxygen are so readily abundant. Heck, there's even water in the Sun (in plasma form). The trick to finding water on Mars isn't because it's not there, it's because it sublimates so quickly once it's exposed to the Martian atmosphere. Under the surface however, it's still there, which is why craters like this are so popular to study.

I would imagine microscopic life probably once existed on Mars, but I doubt any green men ever sprang up millions of years ago from the planet's ecosystem. Even still, I agree with one of the above posters; I don't think we'll ever get some real, hard evidence until we're actually walking around there. Heck, it takes a bunch of work for humans to conduct archeological finds here on Earth. Are we being honest with ourselves that robots on another planet can so easily do the same thing?

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By SPOOFE on 6/27/2010 12:17:41 PM , Rating: 2
Finding water on Mars isn't that surprising considering hydrogen and oxygen are so readily abundant

Don't be so quick to dismiss it; water would still want to evaporate in the low pressure of the Martian atmosphere, and its gravity probably results in a lot of vapor loss.

RE: I'm not an expert but...
By ajfink on 6/26/2010 11:24:53 PM , Rating: 2
From what I know about impacts, the vast majority of ejecta and material come from the ground. The unusual materials COULD come from the impact object, but judging from the size and shape of the crater, it's relatively easy to judge how big the object was. If there's more unusual material than would be expected to survive and be spread around, it must have already been there.

Also, stars, NASA? Stars? Must have been craft day.

What about microorganisms?
By quiksilvr on 6/25/2010 12:43:38 PM , Rating: 2
I'm surprised they haven't found fossils yet. Maybe the environment is too volatile for life to fossilize?

RE: What about microorganisms?
By dgingeri on 6/25/2010 1:12:18 PM , Rating: 2
fossilization requires 2 things: bone, or some other very durable skeletal structure, and movement of water. Bones and coral reefs fossilize because the minerals in them are slowly swapped out or captured in place by water moving through while they decay.

bacteria are much harder to capture as fossils. they'd basically be microscopic pockets or gasses left behind after the organic matter had decomposed.

Mars has not had any moving water in at least several hundred million years. It is highly doubtful any fossils would be left behind at all.

RE: What about microorganisms?
By Micronite on 6/25/2010 1:56:59 PM , Rating: 3
Or maybe there's never been life on mars to fossilize.

By therealnickdanger on 6/25/2010 3:22:51 PM , Rating: 3

Imagine you have a shovel and a microscope duck taped to a radio-controlled car and you were trying to find fossilized microorganisms in the Salt Flats. NASA's tools are a bit more sophisticated, but there's only so much we can do.

Until we have a colony of humans living on Mars, I don't think we'll ever be able to do extensive studies into this.

Sorry, couldn't resist.
By JonnyDough on 6/25/2010 11:23:26 PM , Rating: 3
...observations show a wet past.

That's what she said.

See subject.

RE: Sorry, couldn't resist.
By amberb57 on 6/26/2010 9:27:40 PM , Rating: 2
Somebody beat me to it! LOL

By Phoque on 6/25/2010 11:49:47 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if someday we'll see some bottled Martian water for sale on Earth. Absolutely no doubt in my mind there would be some strange people ready to pay through the nose for that.

a theory
By amberb57 on 6/26/2010 9:41:21 PM , Rating: 2
There is a theory put forth by certain scientists that there is still an ocean on Mars, frozen and covered with a deep layer of dirt, possibly from the debris of asteroid impacts. There are certain pictures that were taken, in the past, of an area of the surface that looks quite a bit like massive iceberg formations, similar to those that break off from Antarctica into the ocean. If you study the difference between the density of cratering in the southern and northern hemispheres, you can easily come to the conclusion that the southern hemisphere was peppered by the debris from some major catastrophe, perhaps the destruction of another near body such as a moon. Something like that could cause a partial loss of atmosphere, and sudden drop in temperature, freezing the surface water and then covering it with a layer of debris from the impacts.

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