An ocean’s worth of water may be lurking in minerals below Mars’ surface, which could help explain why the Red Planet dried up.
Once home to lakes and rivers, Mars is now a frigid desert (SN: 12/8/14). Scientists have typically blamed that on Mars’ water wafting out of the planet’s atmosphere into space (SN: 11/12/20). But measurements of atmospheric water loss made by spacecraft like NASA’s MAVEN orbiter are not enough to account for all of Mars’ missing water — which was once so abundant it could have covered the whole planet in a sea up to 1,500 meters deep. That’s more than half the volume of the Atlantic Ocean.
Computer simulations of water moving through Mars’ interior, surface and atmosphere now suggest that most of the Red Planet’s water molecules may have gotten lodged inside the crystal structures of minerals in the planet’s crust, researchers report online March 16 in Science.
The finding “helps bring focus to a really important mechanism for water loss on Mars,” says Kirsten Siebach, a planetary geologist at Rice University in Houston who was not involved in the work. “Water getting locked up in crustal minerals may be equally important as water loss to space and could potentially be more important.”