It seems like just last week we were singing the praises of the oft-overlooked Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Over the weekend, the Mars satellite sporting one of the coolest cameras this side of the asteroid belt announced new data suggesting a surface formation on the Red Planet long held to be an impact crater may have been misinterpreted. The MRO’s new analysis of the geology at the 57 mile-wide Mclaughlin Crater turned up evidence that the massive impact formation may have been a Martian lake at one point in its history — and that the lake may have been fed by plentiful groundwater long ago in the planet’s past.
The crater is still a crater, mind you, but it’s one so deep — it’s bottom about a mile and a half into the Martian surface — that groundwater that normally would have remained under the surface could have trickled up into the bottom of the crater, slowly filling it with water, researchers say,
That’s because the layers of rock at the bottom of the crater contain minerals like clay and carbonate that likely formed in the presence of water, though there are no signs of nearby rivers or other ancients bodies of water that could have once fed the lake. Taken together with the fact that water channels in the walls of the crater end at what some speculate could have once been the surface of a lake, that leads the MRO team to suspect that there was once enough water on Mars that plentiful groundwater reservoirs fed this crater, turning a basin into a lake. Those same groundwater reservoirs, of course, could have also been fertile grounds for life on Mars at one point, though the jury remains out on that point of course.
The latest analysis of Mclaughlin Crater was performed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and appeared over the weekend in the online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.
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