Extraterrestrial hydrology: the history of water on Mars
There is now abundant evidence that free water once flowed across the surface of Mars. The origin and nature of this water remains obscure.
When was free water present? Where did it come from? What caused hydrological systems to be established and how long did they exist for?
Fragments of rocks from Mars have been delivered to Earth in the form of meteorites called nakhlites. These contain microscopic evidence that hot water once flowed within, as well as on, the Martian rock surface.
We aim to study the history of hydrothermal systems on Mars by analysing the fluid bubbles trapped in minerals and the clays produced as the rocks reacted with the high temperature water.
We are using atomic-scale high-resolution microscope techniques and high precision isotope techniques to trace the source of the water and determine when, and for how long, it flowed.
Why is this research important?
Whether life exists beyond Earth remains an enduring question. Water is essential to the development and maintenance of life, and understanding the history of water reservoirs on solar system bodies such as Mars, and their satellites, is a first step is to identifying suitable extraterrestrial habitats.