Mars Experienced Catastrophic Floods that Created Canyons on the Planet

Mars Experienced Catastrophic Floods that Created Canyons on the Planet

Massive Canyons, who have been there on Mars for 3.7 billion years, were finally detected by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of NASA.

Often referred to as the ‘Red Planet’, Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and has features that make it a hybrid of Earth and Moon. Mars has the craters resembling the ones on the Moon and also has the valleys and ice caps found on Earth. Mars also has the seasonal cycles that are quite similar to Earth seasons. The habitability level of Mars is being investigated by scientists, for decades now, but they haven’t had much success as liquid water cannot exist on the Martian surface due to a number of reasons.

According to a recent research, Mars was a totally different place 4 billion years ago. It was full of lakes and rivers, which overflowed and resulted in canyons (formed as water tore through the rocky surface). Having said that, it is still unclear whether the canyons developed over time or this was done by a single catastrophic flood. One such crater is also a suitable landing site for NASA’s 2020 Mars mission. Named the Jezero Crater, it was chosen on its history of storing water for long periods in the past. The catastrophic flooding phenomenon is not limited to Mars. Similar floods occur on Earth as well, when lakes corked by glaciers break through and unleash a torrent of water outwards. Tim Goudge, a researcher at the University of Texas elaborated that by saying,

“Given the large size of many paleolake outlet canyons on Mars, we hypothesize that lake overflow flooding was an important process for shaping the early Martian landscape. So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars’ surface.”

The photos taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite show the massive scale of these craters. Since Mars has no tectonic plates like Earth, these canyons are more or less permanent. On the other hand, on Earth, such canyons are temporary as the constantly moving tectonic plates shift over time. It is entirely possible these canyons have been as they were for millions of years. The investigation so far suggests that the canyons were a result of a single massive flood. All of these lakes have wide outlets that are connected to the canyon system that stretches across the surface of the Red Planet.  Goudge referred to that in the following words:

“This tells us that things that are different between the planets are not as important as the basic physics of the overflow process and the size of the basin. You can learn more about this process by comparing different planets as opposed to just thinking about what’s occurring on Earth or what’s occurring on Mars.”

One notable difference between the canyons on Earth and Mars is the speed at which the canyons formed. On Earth, such structures are usually created over centuries as the tectonic plates collide. On the other hand, there are no such plates, so all these structures are a result of floods, storms, and asteroid crashes. Goudge said,

“The landscape on Earth doesn’t preserve large lakes for a very long time. But on Mars … these canyons have been there for 3.7 billion years, a very long time, and it gives us insight into what the deep time surface water was like on Mars.”

This was surprising at first because so far, most of Mars’ properties are reminiscent of those on Earth. This provides us with more information about the topography of other planets which do not exhibit signs of having plate tectonics. Interestingly, NASA’s InSight Mission is expected to land on Mars on 26th November 2018, which is expected to dig deeper into the surface in hopes to test the planet’s vital signs aka its pulse, temperature, and reflexes.

It may very well be a possibility that Earth and Mars are made up of same materials. This fits nicely into the “Earth and Mars are twins” theory. The findings of this mission may further aid scientists in understanding how and when the canyons were formed. One thing is for certain, this single odd finding has garnered the attention of scientists worldwide. This was a notable addition to our ever-growing knowledge of Mars. Scientists hope that it will help to find the answer to the question: Is there life on Mars?

Computer Scientist by qualification who loves to read, write, eat, and travel

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