Did Mars’ ancient sea have life?
Ancient Mars had a massive sea fed by hydrothermal vents that pumped out mineral-rich water—an environment that on Earth has proven highly conducive to life. A new analysis of images captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals huge mineral deposits in the Eridania basin of southern Mars, where a sea once held 10 times more water than all the Great Lakes combined, Space.com reports. The shape and texture of the bedrock in the region indicate it was formed by hot springs fueled by volcanic activity. The volcanoes are now extinct and the lake has vanished, but deposits of minerals that remain—including serpentine, talc, and carbonate— provide evidence of seafloor hydrothermal vents. These findings suggest that conditions on Mars some 3.7 billion years ago were similar to the extreme environment on early Earth; many scientists think life on our planet arose in the warm, mineral-rich environment around deep-sea hydrothermal vents. “This site gives us a compelling story for a deep, long-lived sea and a deep-sea hydrothermal environment,” said NASA planetary geologist Paul Niles. Given that several moons of Jupiter and Saturn also have seas, he said, we may eventually find “life that doesn’t need a nice atmosphere or temperate surface, but just rocks, heat, and water.”