Valley that shows signs of flooding may be key to identifying past life on Mars

Mars has a new hot spot for exploration, according to a team of researchers who’ve identified a region that shows signs it was once flooded with water. The region may offer a prime spot to explore  for signs of past life on the red planet.

“The site on Mars that we have examined is located on the floor of a small valley that was eroded by flowing water,” Mary Bourke, a Trinity College, Dublin researcher who co-led the team that made the discovery, told Digital Trends. Along with her colleague, Heather Viles, from the University of Oxford, Bourke published a paper detailing her findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters this week.

“For the topic of our paper, there is an additional geomorphological signature, and that is the layers of sediments on that valley floor that are visible between the aeolian (windblown) dunes that now occupy the valley,” Bourke said. “Those sediments are arranged in such a way that they suggest they are traces of dunes that have migrated down the valley. There are only a limited number of ways in which those sediments could be present, and they all involve the presence of water.”

To make these observations, the researchers used high -esolution satellite data, which allowed them to identify small-scale landforms that resembled features seen in satellite images of Namibia here on Earth. “We were able to visit the site in Namibia to help us test our theory about the Martian features,” Bourke said.

“We are interested in this in terms of the aeolian geomorphology,” Bourke said, “but perhaps also as a potential new site for those planning Mars missions, where habitable conditions were met on Mars.”

Moving forward, Bourke and Viles will continue to research how water helped construct Martian landforms while studying analogous sites in Namibia, Antarctica, and Australia.

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