Washington, June 18 (ANI): A University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder research team has discovered the first definitive evidence of shorelines on Mars, an indication of a deep, ancient lake there and a finding with implications for the discovery of past life on the Red Planet.
Estimated to be more than 3 billion years old, the lake appears to have covered as much as 80 square miles and was up to 1,500 feet deep, according to CU-Boulder Research Associate Gaetano Di Achille, who led the study.
The shoreline evidence, found along a broad delta, included a series of alternating ridges and troughs thought to be surviving remnants of beach deposits.
"This is the first unambiguous evidence of shorelines on the surface of Mars," said Di Achille. "The identification of the shorelines and accompanying geological evidence allows us to calculate the size and volume of the lake, which appears to have formed about 3.4 billion years ago," he added.
Images used for the study were taken by a high-powered camera known as the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE.
Riding on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, HiRISE can resolve features on the surface down to one meter in size from its orbit 200 miles above Mars.
An analysis of the HiRISE images indicate that water carved a 30-mile-long canyon that opened up into a valley, depositing sediment that formed a large delta.
"This delta and others surrounding the basin imply the existence of a large, long-lived lake," said Hynek, also an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department.
The lake bed is located within a much larger valley known as the Shalbatana Vallis.
"Finding shorelines is a Holy Grail of sorts to us," said Hynek.
In addition, the evidence shows the lake existed during a time when Mars is generally believed to have been cold and dry, which is at odds with current theories proposed by many planetary scientists, he added.
"Not only does this research prove there was a long-lived lake system on Mars, but we can see that the lake formed after the warm, wet period is thought to have dissipated," he explained.
The newly discovered lake is believed to have formed during the Hesperian epoch and postdates the end of the warm and wet period on Mars by 300 million years, according to the study.
Di Achille said the newly discovered pristine lake bed and delta deposits would be would be a prime target for a future landing mission to Mars in search of evidence of past life. (ANI)