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Early Martian history may have involved more water on the planet's surface than was previously thought. That is according to researchers in the UK who have identified a series of geological features on the planet's surface, which they claim could only have been formed by running liquid. One tantalizing consequence is that primitive life could have had greater opportunity to evolve before the planet became a frozen wasteland.
Since the 1970s when NASA's Viking mission returned detailed images from the Martian surface, scientists have been in broad agreement that water was present on Mars at the very beginning of its history. Most believe, however, that once the planet entered its "Hesparian Epoch" approximately 3.5 billion years ago, the temperatures at the Martian surface plummeted and any remaining water turned to ice. If life had begun to emerge on the early Mars then it would have become very difficult to sustain in these cold conditions.
In this latest research, a team led by Nicholas Warner of Imperial College London suggests that this is not necessarily the case. By studying images captured by a camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance mission, the researchers focused on a series of depressions around parts of the planet's equator. The formation of these features was dated at no more than 3 billion years ago by counting the number of crater impacts – a method originally developed by NASA scientists to determine the age of geological features on the Moon.