Ancient Mars may have featured surface hot springs, according to research by PSI’s Dorothy Oehler. Using new data from a Digital Terrain Model (derived from HiRISE images acquired with NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter) and comparison to a Mars analog (the Haughton impact crater in the Canadian Arctic), Oehler found that elliptical features seen in Vernal crater, Arabia Terra, Mars, could be remnants of impact-generated hot springs.
These features could be of unique astrobiological importance, as hot springs on Earth not only appear to host some of the earliest evolutionary lifeforms on our planet, but they also typically precipitate minerals that preserve evidence of that life. And there is growing evidence that land-based hot springs, as opposed to sub-sea hydrothermal vents, may have hosted life’s origin on Earth.
Moreover, the features in Vernal crater may have been part of a major trend of hot springs and could provide a rare example of exposed epicenters of spring activity. Today, these features have relatively low dust cover and would be favorable for low-altitude characterization of mineralogy, textures, or terracing that could aid in their interpretation.
If these features are, indeed, remnants of ancient Martian hot springs, they may preserve evidence of microbial life, if it ever developed on the Red Planet. Thus, these deposits would be exceptional candidates for future, small missions utilizing robotic sensors or landers.
This work is summarized in the abstract “Potential Hot Spring Deposits in Vernal Crater, Mars: Exceptional Candidates for Future Exploration” by Oehler and her co-authors, Carlton Allen (NASA) and Gordon Osinski (University of Western Ontario, Canada), which can be accessed here.
Elliptical features (arrows) in Vernal crater (Arabia Terra, Mars) could be the remnants of ancient surface hot springs. North is up.
Source: Space Daily