Like Earth, Mars has experienced periods of extreme glaciation or ice sheet coverage, which are known as ice ages. As these ice ages come and go, glaciers expand and contract along the planet’s surface, grinding huge boulders down to smaller rocks. By examining the size of boulders and rocks at specific locations on Mars, we should be able to understand the history of the Martian ice ages.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, Earth went through two episodes of severe glaciation. These two episodes—the Sturtian and the Marinoan glaciations—occured during the Earth’s Cryogenian Period. The Cryogenian lasted from about 720 million to 635 million years ago.
The phenomenon is called “Snowball Earth” and both instances of it happened in pretty quick succession. And while a planet encased in ice and snow sounds devastating, these episodes may have paved the way for the development of complex life.
The question is, what caused the Earth to freeze over like that?