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Roger Weller, geology instructor
water on Mars
by Aliesa Wrecenyar
The Water Phenomena on Mars
Can water exist on Mars? This is a huge topic of debate among scientists, and if in fact water can exist on Mars, it is a possibility of life on Mars. In 1998 NASA’s Associate Administrator Wesley Huntress Jr., stated “Wherever liquid water and chemical energy are found, there is life. There is no exception.”
Mars atmosphere is very thin and
coupled with its rigid temperature, water cannot exist on the surface.
However, a thin frost does form overnight on the surface. Many scientist believe
that for a very short period of time, during early morning hours, that the sun
melts the frost. Since the atmosphere cannot hold the water it inevitably
evaporates. The atmospheric pressure of Mars is about .6 percent of the
Earth’s atmosphere and the average temperature is negative 63 degrees Celsius.
Due to this combination of elements it leads to the freezing or evaporation
quickly. It is unknown at this point how long the water exists during that
point of time. The fact that there is water on the planet allows for opals to
form underground, being the only planet aside from Earth that opals have been
As you can see from the graph above Mars
is made up of very low pressure, so low in fact that water is unable to reach
the liquid point because of the cold temperatures. Its thin air is unable to
hold liquid water.
Ice deposits on Mars
Mars has an ice deposit that can contain
as much water as Lake Superior. This has been determined by NASA’s special
equipment. It also reveals a deposit much larger than the state of New
Mexico. There was a period in Mars’ history where the axis was tilted more
than its positioned now. We still don’t know if life had existed during
that time, and if so it’s more than likely it was microorganisms. During
this period scientists suggest that melting occurred due to the difference in
climate. The ice deposit ranges in thickness from 200 feet to 600 feet
Mars’ ice is made up about 50-80 percent water ice mixed with dust and rock
debris. This ice deposit is separated from the dry atmosphere by a soil
layer ranging from 3 to 33 feet in thickness. Scientists believe that the
ice deposits formed when snow accumulated at middle Martian latitudes. This also
shows that the climate has changed over many years as is it does here on planet
Utopian Water Source
Mars contains something called a Utopia
Planitia also called the “plains of paradise”. They are ice deposits
located close to the surface and is being considered as a future resource for
astronauts. Some of the benefits include easier access for consumption
because it lies in a flat smooth area instead of being buried deep below the
surface where most of the ice is located. If somehow this water could be
thawed out in the future there is a strong possibility that life could exist on
Mars. The alluvial fans on Mars’ surface indicate that water once flowed
freely across the surface. If we, mankind can find a way to melt these
“plains of paradise” there may be a way to inhabit the planet. “Follow the
Water” is an active program developed by NASA in the beginning of the 21st
century its focus is to find out a way to harness this potential underground
water deposit and answer questions concerning the waters abundance. The
only place where water can be seen is at the north polar ice cap on the planet.
Also at the Martian south pole there is abundant water ice stored in the form of
carbon dioxide ice. A fun fact that I learned is there are more than 5
million cubic kilometers of ice that has been found at or near the surface.
Mars’ surface is made up of alluvial fans, suggesting that rivers once flowed millions of years ago
Surface image of mars, and polar cap.
Life on Mars?
Having a large water supply is a key factor to support life,
but there are limitations that make life above the surface impossible.
Mars lacks a thick atmosphere, an ozone layer, and magnetic field. This
means that light and radiation strike the surface without any buffers. Cells of
living organisms would be destroyed by these damaging rays. In 1976
Scientists led experiments to determine whether life could exist in the soils of
Mars. They discovered that the soil samples had high amounts of acid,
carbon dioxide, along with other gases. Overall the presence of life in
the Martian soil was undetectable and is still a major topic of debate.
The lack of carbon, and organic compounds in the soils make it impossible for
life to be sustainable at this moment. Scientists still believe that there
may be a way to sustain life but there is still no solution. Millions of
years ago Mars was very similar to Earth, but today the planet is one of the
most inhabitable places in the galaxy. Another reason why life is
unsustainable on Mars is the dust storms on that occur on the surface they can
last for weeks and causes the sun to drop by 99 percent. If a human colony
were to survive on Mars’ surface they would contaminate the soils and water
supply, the bacteria could evolve to survive in the harsh conditions and
possibly mutate and cause harm to the colony. Another drawback would be
accidents, the possibility of the radiation poisoning, or lack of oxygen.
The possibility of life on Mars is definitely an interesting idea to consider
for our scientists and habitants of Earth.