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Heavy Rain shaped the Martian Landscape Billions of Years Ago: Study

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

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The Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of Mars when it was just 88 million kilometers away. This image was assembled from a series of exposures taken over 36 hours. A new study posits that heavy rain may have once fallen on the Red Planet. (NASA). VOA
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Washington DC, May 21, 2017: Heavy rain shaped the Martian landscape billions of years ago, according to a new study.

According to researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, rain on Mars once carved river beds and created valleys much like rain on Earth has, and does. It no longer rains on the Red Planet, and the water that remains is mostly in the form of ice.

The rain appears to have slowly changed over time, researchers said, noting that changes in the Martian atmosphere influenced how heavy the rain was, particularly the size of the raindrops.

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When Mars formed 4.5 billion years ago, it had a much thicker atmosphere and higher atmospheric pressure. Pressure, researchers say, influences the size of raindrops.

A view of the surface of Mars taken at the "Intrepid" crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

A view of the surface of Mars taken at the “Intrepid” crater by the Opportunity Mars Rover on November 11, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

They say that early in the planet’s history, the rain would have actually been more like fog, so it would unlikely have made much of an impact on the terrain. But as the atmosphere thinned over time, larger raindrops could form and were heavy enough to “cut into the soil” changing the shape of craters and leading to running water that could have carved valleys.

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Specifically, researcher say the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet was about four bars, compared to one bar on Earth today. This means the raindrops could not have been bigger than three millimeters across. Over time the pressure dropped to 1.5 bars allowing for larger drops measuring about 7.3 millimeters across.

Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims.

Water-carved valleys on Mars appear to have been caused by runoff from precipitation, likely meltwater from snow. Early Martian precipitation would have fallen on mountainsides and crater rims.

“By using basic physical principles to understand the relationship between the atmosphere, raindrop size and rainfall intensity, we have shown that Mars would have seen some pretty big raindrops that would have been able to make more drastic changes to the surface than the earlier fog-like droplets,” said Ralph Lorenz of John Hopkins APL.(VOA)

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Scientists spot massive ice deposits on Mars

Recent observations by MRO's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

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Scientists found layers of ice on the surface of Mars. Wikimedia Commons
  • Recently, scientists have found layers of ice on the Martian land.
  • Scientists think this ice might be a useful source of water for future humans.
  • The researchers had researched 8 locations on the surface of Mars.

Scientists have unearthed thick and massive deposits of ice in some regions on Mars.

The images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.

The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers.

It extending downward from depths as shallow as 1 to 2 meters below the surface, which could preserve a record of Mars’ past climate, the researchers noted in the journal Science.

This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS

“We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate,” said Colin M. Dundas, from the US Geological Survey.

“They might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” Dundas added.

The researchers investigated eight locations on Mars and found thick deposits cover broad regions of the Martian mid-latitudes with a smooth mantle.

However, erosion in these regions creates scarps that expose the internal structure of the mantle.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA
The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA

The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars’ high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice.

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbours subsurface water ice.

Recent observations by MRO’s ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

NASA’s Phoenix lander had also dug up some ice near the Martian north pole in 2008, however, it is not clear if that is part of the big sheet. IANS