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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