NASA scientists have discovered holes in a Martian surface that were once water-based, but are now filled with water.
The discovery, made while NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) orbited Mars in January 2018, was reported in a study published in Science on Friday.
The NASA scientists, led by Michael Zahn, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, found the water-rich holes on the surface of Mars’ Gale Crater, which they named “Molecular Hill,” according to the journal.
They named it “Mountain Molecule” after the geological formation’s topography.
The scientists said they expect that Molecule Hill may have once hosted water.
The study, which included a variety of data from MRO, confirmed previous studies that have shown the topography of Gale Craters is similar to that of the planet’s interior.
But the new findings provide further evidence that Gale Crates were once covered in water, and may have formed in the aftermath of the loss of water from the planet.
The researchers used a combination of computer models and radar data to determine the water content of Molecule Hills, which are about 1 kilometer (0.4 mile) deep, according to NASA.
The researchers also used computer simulations to determine how water-containing minerals may have been transported to Molecule Ridge by the water flowing into Gale Crats.
The scientists believe that the water on Molecule Crates could have formed through a process known as hydrothermal activity.
The process involves underground lava flows that could have reached Gale Crate and possibly flowed into Molecule Creek.
The water-laden deposits on Molecules Ridge have previously been seen in other places on Mars, including the nearby crater Lake Magma, where the watery deposits have been observed in recent years.
But this study was the first to confirm that these deposits were water-bearing.
“This is a remarkable finding and a very exciting development for our knowledge of Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, director of NASA’s planetary science division, in a statement.
“The impact of water-laced minerals on Mars in the past has not been fully appreciated, even though we know how they may have interacted with the planet and its environment.
These water-loving minerals are a key element in determining the ancient environment of Gale.”
Molecule Ridge was first mapped by MRO in October 2018, after it was sent to orbit around Mars for the first time.
The mission’s instruments picked up a series of tiny craters that the rover made contact with as it orbited the Red Planet.
The team had hoped to find evidence of water and minerals in the crater, but the instruments were unable to penetrate the material.
NASA’s mission team later discovered that there was indeed water and that it was covered in mineral deposits.
The rover has been able to explore the crater surface using its Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, and its Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument.
But MRO’s new research has enabled the team to take a closer look at Molecule Valley.
“As we’ve learned from our previous observations, Molecule valley has a much deeper history than we initially thought,” Zahn said in a NASA press release.
“The new analysis, coupled with our earlier analysis of Molecules Hill, shows that these water-like deposits may have supported microbial life, as well as other lifeforms, in the region.”