The search for signs of alien life on Mars may have received a significant boost with the discovery of traces of mega tsunamis on the Red Planet.
Despite being a dry and barren world today, Mars is believed to have been filled with large oceans billions of years ago. If this were true, then it would be likely that the Red Planet could have been home to alien life forms as well. However, scientists haven't been able to find enough concrete evidence to support the theory of ancient seas on Mars until now.
In a new study featured in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) in Arizona discovered traces of two mega tsunamis that existed during the early formation of Mars 3.4 billion years ago.
These massive waves rose to a height of about 400 feet and created shore-break waves with an average height of 150 feet.
On Earth, tsunamis are known to leave backwash water channels after they recede back into the ocean. Looking for such evidence on Mars proved to be difficult since the planet has already undergone widespread erosion and weathering for billions of years.
Lead researcher J. Alexis Rodriguez and his colleagues, however, found traces of the two mega tsunamis while studying maps of Arabia Terra and Chryse Planitia, two flat planes located in Mars' northern region. Infrared images taken by the orbiter Mars Odyssey revealed watermarks on the planes that resembled ocean coastlines.
The researchers saw that the layers of dark and flat sediment on higher elevations were bordered by exposures that were filled with rocks and boulders. They believe that this rocky exposure was likely churned up by massive tsunamis in the past.
The team also found traces of backwash channels that were etched on the ground when the water receded into the ocean. These channels follow a route back to where the temporary shorelines were located.
Interestingly, Rodriguez and his colleagues identified seven different impact craters created by meteors as well, which they believe could have caused the massive waves to form.
The second giant tsunami may have also caused icy boulders to be tossed across the Red Planet's landscape, an event that could have far-reaching impacts on ongoing efforts to find life on Mars.
Study co-author Alberto Fairén explained that even though present-day Mars experiences extreme cold and dry climates, the ancient ocean on the planet could have been briny, which would have allowed it to keep its liquid form even for millions of years.
These types of aqueous environments have been able to sustain life forms on Earth. This suggests that the tsunami deposits on the Red Planet may be suitable targets for astrobiological studies.
The researchers are now planning to conduct follow-up investigations on areas where the tsunami traces are located.