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Melting of thick ice sheets billions of years ago could have made the most habitable region of Mars be several miles beneath the surface, scientists have claimed. Over the course of its 4.6 billion years, the Sun has become gradually brighter and warmer.
However, paradoxically, Mars was much warmer around 4 billion years ago, when the Red Planet was covered in water.
Previous analysis has shown that between 4.1 billion years ago and 3.7 billion years ago, there were rivers and glaciers across the Red Planet, known as the Noachian era.
However, as the Sun has become warmer, Mars has actually gotten colder, leading to confusion among astronomers in what is known as the “faint young Sun paradox”.
A new study, however, may hold the answers and could reveal where life was most likely to exist on Mars.
Our host star acts as a huge nuclear fusion reactor, pushing out huge doses of radiation as it does so.
On rocky planets, such as Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury, elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium generate heat via radioactive decay.
In this scenario, liquid water could be generated as the warmth from the radioactive decay melts ice at the bottom of thick ice sheets.
According to datasets from the scientists, subsurface melting during the Noachian era would have been ubiquitous across Mars.
As such, with a freezing outside and sub-glacial lakes which stretch down miles beneath the surface, life would have been better equipped for living in said lakes, the researchers said.
Lead author Lujendra Ojha, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, said: “Even if greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and water vapour are pumped into the early Martian atmosphere in computer simulations, climate models still struggle to support a long-term warm and wet Mars.
“I and my co-authors propose that the faint young sun paradox may be reconciled, at least partly, if Mars had high geothermal heat in its past.
“At such depths, life could have been sustained by hydrothermal (heating) activity and rock-water reactions.
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“So, the subsurface may represent the longest-lived habitable environment on Mars.”
NASA’s Perseverance Rover is set to land on the Red Planet next year and will drill several metres beneath the surface to search for life on Mars.
Some scientists are optimistic that NASA’s Perseverance is the best bet for finding alien life.
Monica Grady, professor of planetary and space sciences at The Open University, wrote in an article for The Conversation: “While this rover will be just one of many on the red planet, it is our best bet for finding life there for the time being.
“Perseverance carries a full complement of scientific instruments that will measure all the usual things that get measured on Mars: the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks and soil, the amount and type or organic material present at and just below the surface, and so on.
“Perseverance is the first rover to have the capability to drill a core, about ten centimetres long and one centimetre in diameter, and extract it intact from the drill hole.
“Perseverance will take samples from a range of different rock types as it traverses the crater floor.
“The drill cores will be left in a small pile – a cache – for collection, possibly in early 2027, and subsequent transport back to Earth (estimated arrival time is still not known, but maybe around spring 2032).”
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