Mars: Was the red planet once blue?

Most astrophysicists agree that liquid water once existed on Mars. What is disputed, however, is how much water it was. In a new analysis, a research team from the University of Copenhagen concludes that the planet could have been covered by a 300-meter-deep ocean around 4.5 billion years ago. The study was published in the journal Science Advances. So was the Red Planet once blue and possibly hosted life?

“In its early stages, young Mars was bombarded with ice-filled asteroids,” says Martin Bizzarro of the Center for Star and Planet Formation at the University of Copenhagen, one of the study’s lead authors. “That happened within the first 100 million years of planetary development.” In addition to water, the icy asteroids also brought with them biologically relevant molecules such as amino acids. They occur in all living things known to date and serve as building blocks for proteins. “Although the rate of conservation of biologically relevant molecules depends on a number of factors, our results provide evidence that exotic organic matter has reached the surface of Mars,” the authors write.

The researchers were able to piece together the early history of Mars using a billion-year-old meteorite. The meteorite was once part of the crust of Mars and offers a unique insight into what happened at the time of the formation of the solar system. The chromium isotopes it contains provide information about the nucleosynthetic history and the time scales of the formation of planetary deposits. The secret lies in the way the Martian surface, of which the meteorite was once a part, formed, the study says, because the surface doesn’t move. On Earth the opposite occurs. The tectonic plates are in constant motion. This erased all traces of the first 500 million years of Earth’s history.

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