Mars Groundwater Flow Induced Collapse and Flooding in Noctis Labyrinthus
You've seen it before ...
The massive chasms and canyons that make up Valles Marineris.
And when you look at them, it seems clear that they were more than likely caused by catastrophic flooding followed by the collapse of the canyon sides.
Just like the Grand Canyon here on Earth...
And now, according to a new paper by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez, that collapse resulted in the formation of some of the deepest basins on Mars and may be one of the best spots to search for life.
As Rodriguez writes in "Groundwater Flow Induced Collapse and Flooding in Noctis Labyrinthus, Mars", these basins could have been covered and exposed, over and over again, perhaps over a period of hundreds of millions of years, by lava and water lakes that were discharged from pressurized sources of Mars groundwater.
...and that means it's an area that could possibly have harbored life ...
As Rodriguez stated:
The temperature ranges, presence of liquid water, and nutrient availability, which characterize known habitable environments on Earth, have higher chances of forming on Mars in areas of long-lived water and volcanic processes.
Rodriquez and his co-authors postulate that an ancient Mars groundwater system flowed through surface salt deposits, creating "conduits" that led to the head of the Chryse outflow channels. As the water breached the channels, it caused massive flooding and collapsed the flanks of the "conduits", blocking the water like a dam and causing deep, enclosed basins.
These basins -- paleo-lakes, if you will -- were then warmed by the volcanic activity in the Tharsis bulge, making them conducive to life.
As Rodriguez added:
Existing salt deposits and sedimentary structures of possible emplacement within Martian paleo-lakes are of particular astrobiological importance when looking for past habitable areas on Mars. This is particularly true if the discharge of early Mars groundwater, perhaps liked to hydrothermal systems that were active for billions of years, contributed to the formation of the paleo-lakes, as it is proposed in this investigation.
In fact, the same process occurs here on Earth.
In Tibet, there are similar regions with lakes that look like an analog to parts of Noctis Labyrinthus, and Rodriguez wants to investigate them directly to help prove his theory.
In collaboration with the Chinese government, plans are being made to visit Tibet this coming summer and study their similarities to the Mars groundwater system in Noctis labyrinthus.
These studies could highlight the potential of Noctis Labyrinthus as a region of prime interest for astrobiological exploration -- and maybe even lead to eventual on-site exploration.
Let's hope we don't have to wait too long for it.
"Groundwater Flow Induced Collapse and Flooding in Noctis Labyrinthus, Mars," J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez et al., 2016, Planetary and Space Science. PSI Senior Scientist Cathy Weitz and Associate Research Scientist Thomas Platz are co-authors on the paper.