A new animation by NASA scientists illustrates how Mars – the fourth planet from the Sun and the second smallest planet in the Solar System – may have looked like billions of years ago.
Today, Mars is a cold, desert world. Liquid water cannot exist pervasively on its surface due to the low atmospheric pressure and surface temperature, although there is evidence for spurts of liquid flow that perhaps consist of a briny solution with reduced freezing temperature. Water under current conditions can be ice or sublimate directly into vapor without staying in a liquid phase.
Around 4 billions of years ago when the planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water – a critical ingredient for life.
The animation shows how the surface of the Red Planet might have appeared during this ancient clement period, beginning with a flyover of a lake.
“There are characteristic dendritic structured channels that, like on Earth, are consistent with surface erosion by water flows. The interiors of some impact craters have basins suggesting crater lakes, with many showing connecting channels consistent with water flows into and out of the crater,” explained Dr Joseph Grebowsky from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, who is the project scientist for NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission.
It’s unknown if the habitable climate lasted long enough for life to emerge on Mars.