An asteroid caused a giant tsunami on Mars

A group of scientists from France and the United States came to the conclusion that an asteroid that fell on Mars several billion years ago formed a huge crater on the surface of the planet, and also caused a strong tsunami, traces of which are still found today.

Some scientists believe that in the distant past, the vast lowlands in the northern part of Mars were filled with the ocean, although there is no consensus on this issue.

Scientists now say they have found sediment at the boundary between Mars’ southern highlands and northern plains, which they say supports the tsunami theory.

The Lomonosov crater, which lies in the valleys of the northern hemisphere of the planet and arose as a result of a collision with a celestial body, is quite consistent with the pattern of distribution of deposits, allegedly caused by a tsunami, found on the Martian surface.

A growing number of indications that tsunami waves once hit the border between the southern highlands and the lowlands in the north support this hypothesis.

François Costar, Steve Clifford and their colleagues found coastal sedimentary structures that appear to have been brought from the northern plains to the southern coast.

Huge wave

Steve Clifford of the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute in Houston points to rounded deposits of rocks formed on the surface of Mars that could have been left by waves: Mathematical modeling of their formation by François and his colleagues quite convincingly indicates the existence of the ocean at that time.There are also landforms along the coastline, which are called “thumbprints”.Mathematical modeling showed that the reflection of the tsunami from the coastline and the collision of the first wave with the second would create sediments in a shape very close to that which we observe on the surface of Mars.”

Until now, it was believed that the features of the relief of this part of the surface of Mars were created by ancient mudflows, mud volcanoes, or the movement of glaciers.

Mars
Landforms along the coastline, which are called “thumbprints”. © JGR-PLANETS

“If we have evidence that there was a tsunami three billion years ago, then this means that there was an ocean on the northern plains,” continues Steve Clifford.

According to him, this is an extremely important discovery, as it indicates that there was a lot of water on the surface of Mars at that time.

Two waves

According to the researchers, the main candidate for a collision site with an asteroid that caused this tsunami is the Lomonosov crater. This is a very ancient impact crater with a diameter of about 120 km, and a significant part of the edge of its funnel has been destroyed by time.

According to François Costar, the fall of the asteroid caused two tsunami waves that followed one after another.

“It was a huge tsunami moving at considerable speed. At the very beginning, due to the fall of the asteroid, a crater 70 kilometers in diameter was created. This moved a huge mass of water from its place, and the wave began to propagate at a speed of 60 meters per second,” he says.

“The first wave was about 300 meters high. A few hours later, this wave hit the paleo coast, a few hundred kilometers from the crater.”

This huge wave flooded the hills and highlands, leaving behind rounded formations of sedimentary rocks.

“Then, after ocean waters quickly filled the newly created crater, a recoil effect occurred, leading to a second tsunami wave,” adds Dr. Kostar.

If three billion years ago there was an ocean on the surface of Mars, then this means that the conditions for life were more favorable then, and that signs of the existence of certain biological forms can be found today.

“It’s hard to imagine what else, besides the tsunami, could create such rounded sedimentary formations along the border between the flat and mountainous parts of the planet,” Steve Clifford said in an interview with the BBC.

“Uncertainty still remains about the scientific evidence for the existence of water on Mars in the past. Some of them indicate that there was little water on Mars, while others, on the contrary, that there was a lot of it. But the morphological evidence we have presented quite convincingly indicates that the water on this planet seems to have been plentiful.”

Although other scientists have previously spoken about the existence of a tsunami on the surface of Mars in the distant past, so far no one has been able to link this phenomenon with any specific impact crater.

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