Antonio Manaytay – Fourth Estate Contributor
Oxford, United Kingdom (4E) – A new research has the answer to what happened to the water that once freely flowed when Mars was warmer and wetter: the water is now locked in Martian rocks.
The study, published in Nature, had outlined how the Red Planet’s mineralogy is the key to solving the long standing mystery where all of the planet’s water has gone.
Previously, it was thought that most of the Martian water was lost to space when the planet’s magnetic field collapsed. Still, this explanation was not enough to answer the puzzle why the Red Planet is completely barren, frozen, and uninhabitable as it is now.
The ancient Martian surface, according to scientists at the Department of Earth Sciences of Oxford University, reacted with the water and absorbed it oxidizing the rocks in the process. This explains why the planet is now uninhabitable.
Based on the terrestrial model developed by the Oxford team led by Dr. Jon Wade, the basalt rocks on Mars are capable of absorbing 25 percent more water than those on Earth. As more water was absorbed by these rocks, the surface water was totally dissipated into the planet’s interior.
“People have thought about this question for a long time, but never tested the theory of the water being absorbed as a result of simple rock reactions,” Dr. Wade, a NERC Research Fellow in Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, said.
“There are pockets of evidence that together, lead us to believe that a different reaction is needed to oxidize the Martian mantle,” he added.
Meteorites found on Mars, for instance, are chemically reduced than the surface rocks.
“One reason for this, and why Mars lost all of its water, could be in its mineralogy,” he said.
This Martian condition is different than the Earth’s: the terrestrial tectonic plates prevent major changes of water levels at the surface. Both planets, however, do not have the system of recycling water.
In the Red Planet, the reaction between the water and basaltic crust has the effect of a sponge-like effect on rocks. This reaction had changed the rock mineralogy which resulted to the drying up of all surface water over time.
The Earth has never experienced this kind of changes.
“Mars is smaller than Earth, with a different temperature profile and higher iron content of its silicate mantle,” Dr. Wade explained.
These are few of the subtle differences between Mars and Earth but it precipitated the eventual loss of surface water on Mars and rendered it uninhabitable.
The study had indicated that planetary mineralogy could also determine the planet’s habitability, which in turn could impact the understanding of habitability of exoplanets.
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