New research by NASA indicates a primitive ocean on Mars once held more water than the Earth’s Arctic Ocean.
Some 4.3 billion years ago, Mars was a far wetter place with five million cubic miles (20 million cubic kilometers ) of water, according to a team of scientists.
The researchers believe that this water was not spread evenly across the planet, but rather, collected in the northern hemisphere's Northern Plains.
Mars ancient ocean likely covered 19 percent of its surface and in some places went down up to a mile deep.
This body of water would have been larger than the Earth's Arctic Ocean, covering a relative area comparable to the Atlantic Ocean, which occupies 17 percent of the Earth’s surface.
The Red Planet is believed to have had a volume of water 6.5 times greater than what is in the ice caps today, indicating a massive loss of water into space.
Researchers discovered one of the major differences between ancient and modern Mars to be their respective water molecules.
Water, ordinarily H2O, has another variant, HDO, which consists of a hydrogen atom, an oxygen atom, and a deuterium atom, which replaces the second hydrogen atom.
Deuterium is a heavy isotope of hydrogen, that has a neutron in its nucleus.
By comparing the ratio of HDO to H20 in water found on Mars today, water that was trapped in a Mars meteorite dating back some 4.5 billion years, scientists were able to determine how much water had escaped into space. This measurement process took nearly six years to map out.
As since these heavier water molecules do not escape from the atmosphere as easily as ordinary water molecules, the planet has less light water compared to heavy water.
Here on Earth, the HDO/H20 ratio is 1:3,200, but on Mars it is 1:400. This ratio indicates that Mars has lost 87 percent of its water. This not only indicates that Mars once had more water, but was wetter for a longer time.
"With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than was previously thought,” said Senior Goddard scientist Michael Mumma, according to a NASA press release. “Suggesting it might have been habitable for longer.”
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