Martian Mysteries

Phil Berardelli in ScienceNOW Daily News:2007122011

Even though orbiters have eyed it from space and landers have rumbled across its surface, Mars still has more secrets to reveal. Two findings emerged this week: the possibility of a n active glacier far from the planet’s poles and evidence that sulfur–not carbon–was the element driving the planet’s warmer climate long ago. Both discoveries could force some rethinking about martian evolution and dynamics–and maybe even provide insights about Earth’s past.

The glacier discovery was announced Wednesday by the European Space Agency (ESA). A high-resolution stereo camera aboard ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft spotted the feature in a region called Deuteronilus Mensae, located in the mid-north latitudes of the planet. The Mars Express science team drew the preliminary conclusion that the material in the feature is water ice and that it accumulated as recently as 10,000 years ago, probably from an underground source. Other deposits of water ice have been mapped at the martian poles, but they’re much bigger and are millions of years old. The find is a surprise because the prevailing view is that any water reaching the martian surface from underground quickly evaporates and eventually drifts into space. Yet all of the physical characteristics of the feature are “consistent with that of a glacier,” says geologist and team member Ronald Greeley of Arizona State University in Tempe.