There's Water on Mars; Red Planet Absorbed It 'Like a Sponge'

Scientists in the Earth Science department at Oxford University claim they can now explain what happened to the water that once existed on Mars.

Scientists have long believed that the Red Planet used to be fertile, and at one point probably held life, until all the water dried up. There's even a commonly held theory on where most of that water might have gone. Scientists think that a collapse of Mars' magnetic field sent much of the water spilling off the planet.

However, that can only account for about 87 percent of the water scientists believe Mars used to hold. The question as to where the rest went has been the subject of debate for years, but new research indicates that the mineral composition of the planet might be the answer.

Dr. Jon Wade, who is an NERC research fellow at Oxford, headed the research team making these new claims. "It’s possible that Mars developed simple life — but it was doomed by the fact that the planet's rocks were more prone to reaction with water, and this would have inevitably caused the planet to dry and the extinction of that life," he told MailOnline.

The Oxford team found that volcanic activity on Mars formed basalt minerals, which can absorb 25 percent more water than those on Earth.

"People have thought about this question for a long time," Wade said in a written statement, "but never tested the theory of the water being absorbed as a result of simple rock reactions."

Comparing existing models of Earth's geological composition with data about Mars was a key part to these findings, as scientists found that Earth has a profoundly different reaction to many of the same phenomena that occurred on Mars. Dr. Wade said that plate tectonics help explain why Earth's water doesn't soak into the planet in the same way.

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"The Earth's current system of plate tectonics prevents drastic changes in surface water levels, with wet rocks efficiently dehydrating before they enter the Earth's relatively dry mantle," he wrote. "On Mars, water reacting with the freshly erupted lavas that form its basaltic crust, resulted in a sponge-like effect. "The planet's water then reacted with the rocks to form a variety of water bearing minerals."

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