The Waters Of Mars: New Map Shows Something Unexpected

by Elizabeth Howell on July 9, 2014

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A portion of a 2014 Mars map showing the area east of Hellas basin, at midsoutherly latitudes. Credit: USGS

A portion of a 2014 Mars map showing the area east of Hellas basin, at midsoutherly latitudes. Credit: USGS

Where did the water on Mars come from, and where did it go? This plot (sort of) formed the basis of one of the best Doctor Who episodes of the modern era, but in all seriousness, it is also driving scientists to examine the Red Planet over and over again.

This means revisiting older information with newer data to see if everything still matches up. From time to time, it doesn’t. The latest example came when scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey created a map of the canyon systems of Waikato Vallis and Reull Vallis, which are in the midsoutherly latitudes of Mars.

They previously believed the canyons were connected, but updating the data from an understanding based on 1980s Viking data revealed a different story.

“These canyons are believed to have formed when underground water was released from plains materials to the surface, causing the ground to collapse. The water could have been stored within the plains in localized aquifers or as ice, which could have melted due to the heat from nearby volcanoes,” the U.S. Geological Survey stated.

Part of the floor of Reull Vallis, a valley east of Hellas Basin on Mars. Picture taken by Mars Global Surveyor. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Part of the floor of Reull Vallis, a valley east of Hellas Basin on Mars. Picture taken by Mars Global Surveyor. Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

But the newer data — looking at information from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor — revealed the canyons are quite separate, demarcated by a zone called Eridania Planitia in between.

“Careful estimates of the ages of the canyons and the plains reveal a sequence of events starting with the water released from Waikato Vallis, which would have been stored for a time in the plains as a shallow lake. As Reull Vallis was forming separately, the canyon breached a crater rim that was holding back the water in the lake; the lake drained gradually, which can be seen by many smaller channels incised on the floor of Reull Vallis.”

The map was co-produced by Scott Mest and David Crown, who are both of the Planetary Science Institute. You can view the entire map and related materials here.

Source: Planetary Science Institute

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dontno July 10, 2014 at 3:47 AM

I just can’t wait until we put man on mars learn far more than any probe can tell us

Aqua4U July 10, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Another fine reason to put a rover/lander in the Hellas Planetia basin! Got hot springs on Mars? Maybe there…

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