MRO probe has helped scientists to study the underground water channels on Mars

08.03.2013

 

U.S. planetary scientists have confirmed the existence of a system of giant canals under the Elysium volcanic plateau on the equator of Mars, the resulting output of groundwater to the surface of the red planet, according to a paper published in the journal Science.

"Our work has shown that we have underestimated the degree of erosion of the surface of Mars and that the depth of the channels is approximately two times greater than earlier estimates showed. Apparently, the source of water in these channels were deep groundwater, which could rise to the surface as a result of tectonic or volcanic activity, "- said Gareth Morgan, of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC (USA).

Morgan and his colleagues came to this conclusion by examining the data collected by radar SHARAD on board the probe MRO. This radar has a range of radio frequencies from 3 to 30 MHz, which allows him to "shine through" Martian subsoil to a depth of several kilometers and to allocate them in separate layers several meters thick.

The authors have used to study the SHARAD Elysium volcanic highlands in the equatorial Mars, the surface of which there are many extinct volcanoes and small deposits of water ice, covered with ashes and dust. These water supplies prompted scientists to think that this area could contain much more water and ice in the past, when the surface of Mars and its atmosphere was less "dry".

Scientists have tested this hypothesis by analyzing dozens of "slices" of the Martian crust in Elysium, obtained by the radar MRO. So Morgan and his colleagues found just three channel system — long trench width of 20 kilometers and a depth of 50-110 meters. After analyzing the "picture" of channels and their structure, planetary scientists have come to the conclusion that they arose as a result of soil erosion under the influence of groundwater flow. This fact shows that the amount of groundwater and the extent of the Martian "flood" strongly underestimated, astronomers conclude.

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