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Mars Express has found more evidence that Mars once had oceans.
Two oceans have been proposed: 4 billion years ago, when warmer conditions prevailed, and also 3 billion years ago when subsurface ice melted following a large impact, creating outflow channels that drained the water into areas of low elevation.
“MARSIS penetrates deep into the ground, revealing the first 60–80 metres of the planet’s subsurface,” says Wlodek Kofman, leader of the radar team at IPAG. “Throughout all of this depth, we see the evidence for sedimentary material and ice.” The sediments revealed by MARSIS are areas of low radar reflectivity. Such sediments are typically low-density granular materials that have been eroded away by water and carried to their final destination.
This later ocean would however have been temporary. Within a million years or less, Dr Mouginot estimates, the water would have either frozen back in place and been preserved underground again, or turned into vapour and lifted gradually into the atmosphere. “I don’t think it could have stayed as an ocean long enough for life to form.”