Mars once had giant river beds bigger than anything on Earth

Olive Hawkins
March 29, 2019

This shakes up our understanding of Mars' history and makes life tricky for scientists hoping to map the ancient Martian climate.

Broader area for water on Mars?

The confusion on climate modeling for the planet is in part because the planet wouldn't have had enough light to keep water warm enough for a liquid state.

"The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter", Mars Helicopter test conductor Teddy Tzanetos, also of JPL, said in the same statement.

The Mars Helicopter team did just that in JPL's Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide vacuum chamber where Aung & Co. replaced nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases with carbon dioxide-the chief ingredient in Mars' atmosphere. Exactly why and when this happened is not known, but as the solar wind-a stream of charged particles from the sun-stripped away the atmosphere, there was no protective layer keeping the water in place. "The largest river in our database has a width of around one kilometer [0.6 miles], which is wider than the MS at St. Louis", study author Edwin Kite, from the University of Chicago, told Newsweek.

The pair, who have long studied groundwater flow movement on Earth, found similarities between the groundwater moving mechanisms in the Sahara and on Mars.

They then worked out the amount of water running through them using multiple methods, including an analysis of the size of the river channels.

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The solar-powered helicopter will launch with NASA's 2020 Mars rover, a car-size robot that will search for signs of ancient Red Planet life, collect and cache samples for eventual return to Earth, and perform a variety of other science work.

Scientists in University of Chicago in the USA catalogued these rivers to conclude that significant river run-off persisted on Mars later into its history than previously thought.

"We infer that climate-driven runoff that was both intense and globally distributed persisted late in the history of the drying out of Mars", the study said.

A preserved river channel on Mars appears in this photo taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, with color overlaid to indicate elevation.

This finding has a number of implications. Which of these three scenarios is more likely is unclear-and will remain so without further research, Kite said.

The 4lb (1.8kg) device will be carried in the belly of the of the Mars 2020 rover but will fly into the skies above the red planet for the first time.

It's possible that either volcanism, a strong magnetic field that protected the atmosphere or the unique composition of its atmosphere allowed Mars to support liquid H2O longer than hypothesized. "We only required a 2-inch [5 centimeters] hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin, Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher". Scientists are now wondering what theory should they follow or elaborate because of the finding of evidence of the vast river network on Mars, which can change the history of Mars that we know at this moment.

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