Mars’ surface may have been carved up by two, powerful tsunamis that took place billions of years ago. As the scientists point out, these killer waves might have been the result of meteor crashes that rocked the Martian surface. The study, according to the researchers, provides further evidence that the Red Planet once possessed oceans, which in turn could have supported some form of life or the other.
Although currently a cold, dry desert, research has shown that, several billion years ago, Mars possessed running water that formed oceans similar to the kind found on Earth. This has led scientists to conjecture that life might have once existed on the Red Planet, since the presence of liquid water is one of the chief indicators of life in general. There are some researchers who have gone so far as to say that life might still be present on Mars, in the form of hidden, subterranean beings.
For the current research, the team has managed to capture new thermal images of Mars’ northern parts, containing evidence of ancient surface scars that may have been left behind by two giant tsunamis some 3.4 billion years ago. While examining the images, the team came across lobe-like structures along the planet’s northern plains. Speaking about the find, recently published in the Scientific Reports journal, Alberto Fairén, a scientist at Cornell University and Madrid’s Center of Astrobiology, said:
Our work provides definitive evidence for the presence of large and long-lived oceans on Mars… Lobes are curved, roundish projections formed by deposits of sediments.
According to Alex Rodriguez of Tucson’s Planetary Science Institute, the lobes found on the Martian surface are enormous, measuring over hundreds of miles in length and width. Such formations are also observed on Earth in the aftermath of a tsunami. As the team points out, the structures on the Red Planet could be the result of two ancient tsunamis, extending over a wide area. The first one, the scientists believe, covered an area of more than 309,000 square miles (around 800,000 square kilometers), with the next spreading over 386,000 square miles (or 1 million square kilometers).
During the first of these Martian tsunamis, the waves shoved large boulders over 33 feet (about 10 meters) in height. While retreating due to gravity, these killer waves carved several channels on the Martian surface, measuring up to 655 feet (or 200 meters) in width and more than 12.4 miles (approx. 20 km) in length. Between the two catastrophes, however, the climate on the Red Planet underwent a significant change, with dropping temperatures partially turning the lobes in the second tsunami into ice. Fairén added:
These lobes froze on the land as they reached their maximum extent, and the ice never went back to the ocean, which implies the ocean was at least partially frozen at that time.
In both cases, the researchers believe that giant meteor strikes were what caused the disturbances. According to their calculations, the crashes quite possibly created gigantic craters over 18 miles (around 30 km) in width, resulting in tsunamis reaching up to 165 feet (or 50 m). The findings, therefore, point to a distant past where the planet might have been covered with flowing water. Fairén explicated:
Cold, salty waters may offer a refuge for life in extreme environments, as the salts could help keep the water liquid. If life existed on Mars, these icy tsunami lobes are very good candidates to search for biosignatures.
One possibility is the killer waves may have crashed into some of Mars’ glacier-lined shores, causing huge chunks of ice to dislodge and drift toward the coastal waters. At present, the team is trying to investigate other parts of the planet’s shorelines, in search of tsunami deposits. Rodriguez went on to say:
We would like to characterize landing sites that will allow us to sample ice from the tsunami to investigate the original composition of the ocean.