London, March 21 (ANI): Using images from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, NASA scientists have discovered what could be mud volcanoes on the planet, in which life might be bubbling in muddy squirts.
According to a report in New Scientist, Dorothy Oehler and Carlton Allen of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, identified dozens of mounds at a site in the northern plains of Mars that bear a striking resemblance to mud volcanoes on Earth.
These form a distinctive large hill of sediment with a central crater.
Further evidence comes from infrared images of the Martian mounds, which show that they cool down more quickly at night than rock should, suggesting they are made of a fine-grained sediment such as mud.
Together with David Baker of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Allen and Oehler also took a fresh look at some possible mud volcanoes identified previously by other researchers, about 1000 kilometers further north.
Using light spectra of the mounds recorded by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, they found hints of iron oxides, which form in the presence of liquid water.
Jack Farmer of Arizona State University in Tempe agrees that the mounds could be mud volcanoes, but cautions that other processes, like the retreat of glaciers, can leave behind similar heaps of sediment.
"Nonetheless, studying the clay from mud volcanoes would be of great interest," he said.
"Clays have the ability to sequester organic molecules, like ammonia and proteins. They might retain a memory of any organisms that were there," he added. (ANI)