A new concrete evidence of the possibility of life in Mars was lately discovered in a salt flat on the Red Planet.
The salt flat reveals an ancient lake with components similar to those of lakes on Earth, which further signifies habitability in our neighboring planet.
In a study published in the online journal Geology, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder described the late formation of chloride salts in Mars through the processes of ponding and evaporation.
"This was a long-lived lake, and we were able to put a very good time boundary on its maximum age," said research associate at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU-Boulder Brian Hynek, who is also the study's lead author. He also said that they are not certain that the salt flat is one of the last instances of a huge lake on the Planet.
Through digital mapping, the researchers found that the chloride salt deposit stretches to 18 square miles situated on the Meridian region of Mars and near the planet's Opportunity rover's landing site. This makes it more or less the size of the city of Boulder. Mineralogical analysis helped them determine the age of the lakebed, which is no older than 3.6 billion years. This was well after a time Mars is thought to have been warm enough for huge amounts of surface water and long after the solar system is thought to have formed 4.6 billion years ago.
Salt deposits in scales as large as the ancient Martian lake represent evaporated bodies of water, similar to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. According to Hynek, the lake's salinity reveals the body of water would have been habitable throughout its existence. The extent and thickness of the salt, the researchers saw, make the lake 8 percent as salty as the oceans on Earth. It is possible that the lake was once home to microbial life, although the scope of the study did not include acidity levels and other factors.
Lead author Hynek also works as an associate professor at CU-Boulder's Department of Geological Sciences, and is the director of the CU Center for Astrobiology.
Mikki Osterloo and Kathryn Kierein-Young, Hynek's colleagues at the LASP, co-authored the study. Assistance with digital terrain mapping and data processing was provided by the Remote Sensing Laboratory at the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute and the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) at the University of Arizona. Funding was provided by the NASA-Mars Data Analysis Program.