Two American geologists have published a study that reveals a bombardment of asteroids and comets approximately 4 billion years ago may have produced conditions to have supported life on Mars.
Stephen Mojzsis of the University of Colorado and Oleg Abramov of the United States Geological Survey recently published their findings in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
In the study, the pair proposes that the force of these asteroids’ and comets’ impact, that were likely hundreds of kilometers in width, produced enough heat on the surface of Mars to melt any of the ice on the red planet and that it may have altered the climate enough to have produced life for a time. According to Mojzsis and Abramov, the event lasted for around one hundred million years and has been called the “Last Heavy Bombardment.”
“The running line is, if there was life on early Mars, this ancient bombardment was highly beneficial to it. Most people think that asteroids extinguish life, but the opposite is true for life – life as we know it – microbial life,” says Mojzsis.
The hope is that the gigantic barrage was capable of producing hydrothermal effects that are similar to those seen at Yellowstone National Park. The pair believes that the bombardment could have given Mars’ atmospheric pressure a huge jump start, which would have generated a new water cycle on the planet as temperatures on the surface rose.
When NASA’s Mars Rover was exploring the planet a few years ago, it discovered certain types of organic matter as well as methane gas, which scientists believe may have been conducive to establishing life. What they are unsure about, however, is if those things were native to the planet or were brought there by comets and asteroids.
NASA scientists, on the other hand, are relatively certain that water existed on Mars at one time as evidenced by dried up river and lake beds as well as structures that once indicated river valleys.
Mojzsis will soon meet with researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena to discuss the 2020 return of the rover to Mars. The hope is that they can try and pinpoint certain areas on the planet that can be explored further to discover what life may have once existed there.
Richard Zurek, the chief scientist for JPL’s Mars project concluded that, “What you need for life to get started on a planet is for water to be on the surface for an extended period of time. There still may be life on Mars – life did not evolve to something that could survive on the surface, but there is still the possibility that life could be in microbes on the crust of Mars.”
All Images Courtesy of NASA