Mars once possessed vast oceans of liquid water, but the Red Planet lost its atmosphere and water billions of years ago. Now, a massive crater may tell the story of an ancient marine cataclysm on Mars 3.5 billion years ago.
Not long after the planets of our solar system took form, a massive asteroid screamed through the atmosphere, slamming down into a shallow ocean on the Red Planet, new research suggests. A behemoth wall of water, hundreds of feet high, colored red from the Martian soil, would have raced across the surface of the Red Planet. When it came to shore, the massive wave would have flooded an area larger than the United States. This idea was first put forth in 2016, but new research suggests a massive asteroid, 19 kilometers (12 miles) long and 14 km (nine miles) wide, may have caused the ancient cataclysm.
Fields of large boulders carved with rivulets on the Martian surface show features that could have formed as water retreated backwards following a cataclysmic flood. These deposits of rocks, found on the northwestern Arabia Terra on Mars, form under cliffs like an arrow, showing how water retreated from the region.
Well… Water You Know…
Francois Costard, astronomer from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, suspected an asteroid was the cause of the mega-tsunami. His team considered 10 candidate craters which might be evidence of such an impact.
The Lomonosov crater was shown, unequivocally, to be the center of the ancient impact. Today, this feature stretches 120 kilometers (75 miles) across. It’s unique shape, including an outlet in the southern rim of the crater which may have formed from quickly-moving water, caught the attention of researchers.
“We attribute its broad and shallow rim, in part, to an impact into a shallow ocean as well as its subsequent erosion from the collapsing transient water cavity,” The American Geophysical Union reports.
The age of the crater — roughly three billion years — fits in with studies of the geography of the region. The rim of the crater, looking much like marine craters on Earth, is the same height as the estimated depth of the Martian ocean at that point in time. In addition to physical data, calculations suggest the impact was powerful enough to cause the mega-tsunami.
The Tide is Coming in for Mars Exploration
“We come, after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And, the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.” — Carl Sagan
The idea that the Lomonosov impact caused this massive flood awaits confirmation. Volcanoes and/or marsquakes, instead of a massive asteroid strike, may have resulted in the tremendous Martian tsunami.
At the time of the tsunami, much of the water which once distinguished Mars had retreated into frozen deposits, hidden under the Martian surface. Massive landslides were shaping the surface of the planet, as water started to freeze under the surface of the red planet.
Further research could reveal the ultimate cause of this mega-tsunami on Mars. But, for now, the Lomonosov crater tells a convincing story.
Over the next few years, Mars will be visited by a wide range of robotic visitors, including NASA’s Mars 2020, a science laboratory from the European Space Agency (ESA) named in honor of biologist Rosalind Franklin, and the Hope Mars Mission. This planetary spacecraft, designed to understand the reasons Mars lost its atmosphere, will be the first ever launched by any Arab or Muslim country (the United Arab Emirates).
Spacecraft heading toward the Red Planet with their instruments searching for signs of ancient life may learn a lot by looking at this unique region of Mars.
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