Mars Streaky Slopes May Be Caused By Boiling Water, Study Finds

Posted: May 3 2016, 12:31pm CDT | by , Updated: May 3 2016, 10:18pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Mars Streaky Slopes may be Caused by Boiling Water, Study Finds
Credit: M. Massé

New research explains how water could have made the lines.

Mars contains hundreds of dark, streaky slopes. These narrow avalanche-like features appear periodically on Martian surface and their existence has baffled scientists for years. The slopes stretch a few hundred meters in length and are about 5 meters wide. They appear in warm season and fade as they cool.

The mysterious slope streaks were first discovered in late 1970s but it was not until recently, scientists have studied them in detail. Despite all the advanced technology, they were unable to identify what exactly caused those streaky slopes. 

Now, scientists may be inching closer to solve the mystery. New research has found that these Martian slopes may be carved by boiling water. 

Scientists believe that Mars once used to have water that could not survive long in liquid form and was either freezed or evaporated from its surface. Last year, a report suggested that those curios lines running down slopes on the Mars surface in summer may be streaks of super-salty brine which require water for their formation. 

To test the theory, a team of international researchers utilized a special chamber and mimicked the conditions of Mars summer day. Mars atmosphere is completely dry and more than 50 times thinner than what we observe on Mount Everest.

Researchers placed a block of ice on plastic slope covered with fine sand at a temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit and allowed it to melt in the special chamber which simulated the Martian pressure and summer temperature. 

Researchers found that the resulting shape was similar to the streaks seen on Martian surface. When the ice melted and produced water, it boiled immediately. As it flowed downslope and filtered into sand, it created the hillside flows. The boiling caused grains of sand to blast into the air and turned them into bubbles popping across the hill. 

“The morphologies produced on the sandy slopes in these experiments are remarkably similar to the streaks observed on Mars,” said Wouter Marra of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study.

“This process in which unstable boiling water causes grains to hop and trigger slope failures may underlie some of the active landforms observed on the Martian surface.”

The process is unlike anything seen on Earth. When researchers repeated the same experiment under Earth conditions, the outcome was totally different. 

Project leader Marion Masse from University of Nantes, France says. “With our experiments we see that it’s not really possible to compare water flow on Earth and on Mars…mechanism is completely different.”

“This helps us to think differently about how water would behave on Mars.” 

The findings are published in journal Nature Geoscience.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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