Despite our decades of experience with space observation, most of the knowledge we make our plans on is still mostly supposition. This is because something may make sense with the information we have, but the information we have was collected with previous, not-as-advanced technology. This makes information based on that incorrect on incomplete data also incorrect or incomplete, and so on, and so forth.
But occasionally we discover something that despite our previous theories can overturn everything we know about a subject. More specifically, Mars had water for a far longer time than believed. This discovery came pretty much accidentally, as a team of Arizona researchers was attempting to see what the red planet looked like before its pole shift.
Of course, this has huge implications for all future Mars missions, as according to the researchers involved in the study,
This study upsets our picture of the surface of Mars as it must have been 4 billion years ago, and modifies the timing of events profoundly. Generally, the longer you have large volumes of stable water on the planet, the more likely it is for life to arrive.
By now you might be wondering about how this discovery came to be, so let me shed some light on that. Instead of setting out to find anything about water or life on Mars, the team of researchers simply wanted to see what Mars looked like in its youth, about a billion years after it was formed.
Doing this, the team realized that centripetal forces caused by a humongous volcanic region, Tharsis, caused the entire outer surface of the planet to shift about 20 degrees. It was basically the equivalent of turning the flesh of a peach around its pit, and it was all caused by the enormous volcanic region.
The true polar wander, as the event is called, was caused by the 2,500 miles across, 6 miles high volcanic region. It contains nine smaller volcanoes and three massive ones, all more than 100 times bigger than any found on Earth. It also contains a series of river beds and valleys similar to those on Earth.
By creating a computer simulation of what Mars might have looked like 3.7 billion years ago, before the formation of the volcanic region, the team discovered that the river valleys were still there even before the formation of the volcanoes.
This means that the volcanoes were not responsible for water reaching the area and that water was flowing from the cratered highlands in the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere’s low plains for far longer than it was currently believed – about half a billion years longer.
Image source: Wikimedia