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Planetary Scientist Discover Water in Mars

Team from Northern Arizona University and Johns Hopkins University, Northern Arizona University (NAU) Ph.D. candidate Ari Koeppel recently discovered that water was once present in a region of Mars. The area is called the Arabia Terra, which is in the northern latitudes of Mars.

It was named in 1879 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, this ancient land covers an area slightly larger than the European continent. The region contains craters, volcanic calderas, canyons, and beautiful rock bands reminiscent of sedimentary rock layers in the Painted Desert or the Badlands.

These layers of rock and how they formed was the research focus for Koeppel along with his advisor, associate professor Christopher Edwards of NAU’s Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science along with Andrew Annex, Kevin Lewis, and undergraduate student Gabriel Carrillo of Johns Hopkins University. Their study, titled A fragile record of fleeting water on Mars, was funded by the NASA Mars Data Analysis Program and recently published in Geology.

To understand what happened to create the rock layers, the scientists focused on thermal inertia, which defines the ability of a material to change temperature. Sand, with small and loose particles, gains and loses heat quickly, while a solid boulder will remain warm long after dark. By looking at surface temperatures, they could determine the physical properties of rocks in their study area. They could tell if material was loose and eroding when it otherwise looked like it was solid. Through a series of investigations using this remotely gathered data, they looked at thermal inertia, plus evidence of erosion, the condition of the craters and what minerals were present.

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