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Martian water may have flowed thanks to intermittent infusions of methane

In their ongoing quest to understand Martian water, scientists are now suggesting that the Red Planet was once heated by a planetary Dutch Oven. Many geological features on Mars suggest that water once flowed over much of its surface, but scientists are at a bit of a loss to pinpoint how that would have worked with the planet’s thin atmosphere. As far as we can tell, heat from the Sun should have been lost too quickly to warm up the planet’s water, prompting investigations into alternative climate models. One promising possibility may be periodic bursts of methane erupting from the bowels of Mars surface, creating temporary insulation to let the planet warm up.

If this model can be verified, it matches up with existing evidence of shifting temperatures quite well. With all the channels and signs of erosion spread across Mars, it seems that the place was once quite wet, even sporting enough water to support tsunamis. But while there’s little doubt about the existence of these past rivers, lakes and oceans, the timing has never made sense. Dates estimated from impact craters indicate that the water was somehow flowing after most of Mar’s atmosphere had already been lost to space thanks to influences like solar wind. Intermittent puffs of methane can then fill in that hole, providing warmth for these periods when water flowed while never replacing a stabilized atmosphere.

Other models for methane

Mars isn’t burping up a lot of methane today, but there is some precedent for this idea. Saturn’s moon Titan is currently socked in with methane in it’s atmosphere, and the gas helps create a greenhouse effect that traps solar energy close to the moon’s surface. Similarly, Earth’s methane supply does the same thing, working alongside other gases like carbon dioxide to hold onto heat from the sun. Further data is being gathered by the MAVEN spacecraft, and we may see a more detailed model for exactly how warm methane could have made Mars in it’s more liquid-friendly days, billions of years ago.

Source: Bursts of Methane May Have Prepped Ancient Mars for Life by Irene Klotz, Seeker

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