May 23rd, 2005

Significant Runoff on Early Mars Identified in River Channels Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Mars is now a cold, dry desert, but robotic satellites and rovers have returned new evidence of a warmer and wetter climate more than 3.5 billion years ago, when conditions may have been more favorable for life. Geologists at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, working with colleagues at the University of Virginia, have discovered 21 river channels in the dry Martian valleys, which provide new clues to this ancient climate. The researchers have determined that Martian rivers were about the same size as their counterparts on Earth, suggesting similar amounts of runoff from thunderstorms or rapid snowmelt. The findings will appear in the June issue of the journal Geology.