Mars Crater May Have Been Home To Groundwater-fed Lake
January 21, 2013

NASA Probe Finds Evidence Of Groundwater-Fed Lake In Martian Crater

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA´s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has discovered evidence of a wet underground environment which suggests the planet could have once been home to a groundwater-fed lake, the US space agency announced on Sunday.

The new data is the result of spectrometer data collected by the probe of the floor of McLaughlin Crater, which is 57 miles in diameter and 1.4 miles deep. The depth of the crater apparently allowed water to flow into its interior at one point, NASA officials explained on Sunday, and flat, layered rocks contain carbonate and clay minerals, both of which typically indicate the presence of water.

“McLaughlin lacks large inflow channels, and small channels originating within the crater wall end near a level that could have marked the surface of a lake,” the agency, who reported their results in Sunday´s online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, said.

Together, these new observations suggest the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater. Some researchers propose the crater interior catching the water and the underground zone contributing the water could have been wet environments and potential habitats.

Based on the combined observations of the crater, Joseph Michalski, lead author of the paper, said he believes it is likely the carbonate formed within a lake-style environment rather than being carried into McLaughlin Crater from an external source. He and his five co-authors used the MRO´s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) to look for carbonates and similar minerals.

“The MRO team has made a concerted effort to get highly processed data products out to members of the science community like Dr. Michalski for analysis. New results like this show why that effort is so important,” CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland said in a statement on Sunday.

According to NASA scientists, McLaughlin Crater´s position at the low end of a several hundred mile long slope on the western end of Mars´ Arabia Terra region makes it a good candidate to be home to a groundwater-fed lake.

“A number of studies using CRISM data have shown rocks exhumed from the subsurface by meteor impact were altered early in Martian history, most likely by hydrothermal fluids,” Michalski said. "These fluids trapped in the subsurface could have periodically breached the surface in deep basins such as McLaughlin Crater, possibly carrying clues to subsurface habitability."

"This new report and others are continuing to reveal a more complex Mars than previously appreciated, with at least some areas more likely to reveal signs of ancient life than others," added Rich Zurek, an MRO Project Scientist working out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.