Signs in the soil of Mars indicate living conditions over a long period of time

Is there life on Mars? Has it ever been? This is one of the biggest questions we have about our planetary neighbor; now, research points to one particular part of the red planet that could have been able to shelter life several times over billions of years.

Through a thorough study of images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, planetary scientists have identified clay-containing sediments in the northern Ladon Valley, the southern Ladon Basin and the southwestern plateau around the Ladon Basin – all part of an extensive crater Margaritifer Terra territory.

Clay indicates the long-term presence of water, as it is formed under neutral pH conditions with minimal evaporation of water. The team thinks water flowed here from about 3.8 billion years ago to about 2.5 billion years ago, much of Martian history.

“In addition, colorful layered sediments of light tones that show relatively low dives and contain clay at 200 kilometers [124 miles] in the distance is evidence that the lake was most likely present within the Ladon Basin and northern Ladon Valles, ” says Catherine Weitzsenior scientist at the Institute of Planetary Sciences in Arizona.

“The low-energy ambience of the lake and the presence of clay support an environment that would be favorable for life at the time.”

While this isn’t exactly proof of life – we would have to go digging to Mars to truly confirm this – it still suggests conditions that could support life. It is the latest research that interprets conditions on Mars according to what we can see on its surface and sediments.

The researchers believe the clays originally formed around the higher soil above the Ladon Basin, before being eroded by water canals and transported downstream into the lake in the Ladon Basin and the northern Ladon Valleys.

According to the team, the latest water flow would be along the southwestern Ladon Basin. The deposits here correspond to another part of Mars, the Eberswalde delta, south of the region covered by this study.

“Our results show that clay sediments deposited by running water in Eberswalde have not been uncommon in this recent time because we see many examples of similar young valleys that have deposited clay in the region,” says Weitz.

We know there is ice on Mars, but the search for running water continues. This latest study supports the idea that running water was once an extensive part of the Martian landscape – and that it may have brought life with it.

To what extent the presence of water on Mars was transient or otherwise, it is crucial to discover whether life at some point could have been supported or not. The distribution of clay and other rocks observed by the researchers is consistent with the water retained.

Moreover, clays are sources of nutrients and environmental stabilizers around them. Combine water, nutrients and stable conditions and the chances of organisms surviving increase significantly.

“Housing conditions could recur in the region, at least occasionally, until the relatively late history of Mars,” the researchers write in their published work.

The research was published in Icarus.

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