Mars water mystery: Scientists find reason of its disappearance; is building human colonies on red planet a bad idea?

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New Delhi:

Scientists across the world were all geared up to establish a few human colonies on Mars, while a new study has thrown cold water on all those plans.

The latest study led by a group of scientists from Oxford University has provided insights into the subtle changes in planetary conditions which raised questions over the possibility of lives on the red planet.

According to scientists, Mars was potentially habitable until around three billion years ago, much like Earth and made uninhabitable after its surface water was absorbed into the planet’s crust.

Researchers were left amazed with a bunch of existing research suggesting the water was swept into space by powerful solar winds when the planet's magnetic field collapsed, while some was captured in sub-surface ice.

Meanwhile, the new study led by an international team of researchers concludes that the water is still there, locked into the planet’s surface due to chemical reactions with its rocky crust.

The study first appeared in the journal Nature.

"The results revealed that the basalt rocks on Mars can hold approximately 25 percent more water than those on Earth, and as a result drew the water from the Martian surface into its interior," said a statement from Oxford University, where scientists took part in the study.

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As on Earth, chemical weathering and hydrothermal reactions can change minerals in rock from dry to water-bearing, study co-author Jon Wade was quoted while interacting with AFP.

But Martian rock, because of a different composition, is much better at doing so.

Such rocks would have reacted with the surface water on Mars, locking some of it up in their mineral structure, Wade said in an email.

"It is not liquid anymore but physically bound in the mineral," he said which means the only way to release the water would be to melt the rock.

On an infant Earth, water-bearing rocks formed in a similar way would have floated on the planet's super-hot surface until they melted, releasing water back to the surface as they did.

But on Mars, not all the rock would have melted and some of the water would have remained trapped in rock that sank straight to the mantle.

"In essence, Mars was doomed by its geochemistry!" Wade added.

In 2015, NASA said almost half of Mars's northern hemisphere had once been an ocean, reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometres (one mile).

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Later that year, a study announced the discovery of 'water' remaining on the fourth rock from the Sun, in the form of super-salty brine streaks running down steep slopes.

Earlier, in November, a research led by Michael Meyer from NASA's Mars exploration program had provided some images which proved that those dark streaks on the red planet appear more like dry, steep flows of sand, rather than water trickling downhill, at or near the surface.

If water truly exists on the planet it is not sufficient enough to support lives further.

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