Feeds

Probe reveals three ages of Mars

Zoning in on life

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Europe's Mars Express probe has revealed new insights into the history of water on the Red Planet. The work is key to understanding the likelihood of there having been life on Mars.

The findings, appearing in Science, are based on data from the orbiter's Omega spectrometer, which uses infrared and visible light to investigate geology. A team led by Jean-Pierre Bibring of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in Orsay, France, used mineral measurements to define three ages of the Martian environment.

The Phyllocian, the first of the three periods, was characterised by an abundance of clay-rich minerals, which would need plenty of alkaline liquid water to form. It lasted a relatively short time – from when the planet formed at the same time as Earth about 4.5bn years ago to 4bn years ago when Mars became significantly less hospitable.

The profusion of sulphate deposits marks the Theiikian era, and indicate volcanoes broke out like acne across the face of the adolescent planet. The huge quantities of sulphur dioxide the eruptions churned out mixed with the water on the surface, forming the basis for the sulphate deposits. This lasted for a billion years.

The final period, Siderikan, beginning 3.5bn years ago and lasting up to the present day, is less exciting. Mars became frigid, volcanically inactive, and most of the water disappeared. What remains is frozen at the poles. Slow formation of Mars' trademark red iron oxides was caused by peroxides in the thin atmosphere, the team say.

The researchers say future explorations of Mars' surface should aim for the oldest clay deposit regions as the chances of finding evidence of life are best here. NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers are in sulphate-rich areas from the middle era. Bibring told the BBC he hopes to put a minature version of Omega on the European Space Agency's exploratory 2011 ExoMars mission.

He said: “We will look for samples that are rich in hydrated clays because we think that they are the most favourable to host, at a microscopic level, potential bio-relics." ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.