Is there a river on Mars?

Photo: BBC Science Focus

It’s looking more and more like we just might get to leave planet Earth after all.

Astronomers have discovered new evidence to support their research that there is water on Mars. But just to put things into context, this new evidence that they’ve discovered supported life on Mars around 3.7 billion years ago.

Its the marks left behind by a river, which they have hypothesized flowed on Mars for more than 100,000 years.  

It has left behind permanent marks in exposed cliff faces more than 650ft (200m) high which reveal the river was a deep, fast-flowing torrent of water which existed year-round. 

Marks in the rock are identical to those seen on Earth when water flows past rock for long periods of time

Researchers from the University of Utrecht believe this proves that Mars had abundant liquid water and a stable atmosphere.

It is believed the river was constantly shifting and creating sandbanks similar to the Rhine, or other rivers in Northern Italy.  

The large cliff face, located at a place called at Izola Mensa in the northwestern rim of the Hellas Basin in Mars’s southern hemisphere, painted the picture of the river. 

Soft sedimentary rocks were scrutinised in detail, with advanced imagery on the satellites providing resolution of up to an inch (25cm) per pixel. . 

Due to the age of the cliffs the astronomers are unable to predict how long the river would have been, saying erosion makes the current surface vastly different to the one that existed more than three billion years ago. 

Dr Francesco Salese, who led the research, says analysing the marks in the rock was easy with the correct technology.

‘The extremely high resolution imagery allowed us to “read” the rocks as if you are standing very close to the cliff,’ he adds. 

‘Unfortunately we don’t have the ability to climb, to look at the finer-scale details, but the striking similarities to sedimentary rocks on Earth leaves very little to the imagination.’ 

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.