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NASA finds more evidence of historical Mars water flows

Orbiter sends back data showing fractures in the surface that are called water's footprints

September 26, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - NASA got one more piece of the Martian puzzle this week.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has sent back data showing that it has spied hundreds of small fractures on the surface of the Red Planet. Scientists believe that billions of years ago, those fractures directed water flows through underground sandstone. This is just one more piece of evidence that water used to flow across the surface of our neighboring planet.

"These structures are important sites for future exploration and investigations into the geological history of water and water-related processes on Mars," said Chris Okubo, a planetary scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. "Groundwater often flows along fractures such as these, and knowing that these are deformation bands helps us understand how the underground plumbing may have worked within these layered deposits."

NASA has the Reconnaissance Orbiter, two ground rovers and the Mars Lander all searching the planet for elements on Mars that could support life.

In July, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that its scientists had concluded that Mars was once awash in water. The orbiter sent back information showing that water was on Mars as far back as 4.6 billion to 3.8 billion years ago.

The JPL noted that the period corresponds to the earliest years of the solar system. And the wet conditions were evident for thousands to millions of years after the waters formed clay, which later was buried by volcanic lavas.

NASA said in July that the scientists also found evidence of a system of river channels that flowed into a crater lake slightly larger than Lake Tahoe in California.

This latest evidence of water shows not only surface erosion, but also groundwater effects that are widely distributed across the planet, according to NASA. "Groundwater movement has important implications for how the temperature and chemistry of the crust have changed over time, which in turn affects the potential for habitats for past life," said Suzanne Smrekar, deputy project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, in a statement.

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