NASA images reveal Mars had raging rivers that were kilometres wide and carved out vast canyons
Scientists believe massive, catastrophic floods carved out huge canyons in a matter of weeks
MARS was once home to raging rivers and lakes formed in craters which often burst, carving out vast canyons in just weeks, a new study found.
On Earth canyons take millions of years to be gouged out from the surface but on the Red Planet once catastrophic floods were unleashed, canyons were carved out very rapidly.
The Red Planet saw raging rivers and catastrophic floods, say scientists
The flood waters left their mark on the surface of Mars that can still be detected billions of years later even though most of the water on Mars is locked away in frozen ice caps.
Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin say these “catastrophic” geologic processes had major role in shaping the landscape of Mars and other worlds without plate tectonics.
Dr Tim Goudge, at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences said: "These breached lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian Sea.
"So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars' surface."
The Jezero crater is a so-called 'paleolake' and possible landing site for NASA's mission to look for past life
Satellite images of rock formations showed evidence of that hundreds of craters across the surface of Mars were once filled with water.
More than 200 of these "paleolakes" have outlet canyons tens to hundreds of kilometres long and several kilometres wide, carved by water flowing from the ancient lakes.
However, until now, it was unknown whether the canyons were gradually carved over millions of years or carved rapidly by single floods.
Using high-resolution photos taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite, the researchers examined the shape of the outlets and the crater rims of 24 paleolakes and their outlet canyons.
Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars
They found a link between the size of the outlet and the volume of water expected to be released during a large flooding event.
If the outlet had instead been gradually whittled away over time, the relationship between water volume and outlet size likely wouldn't be the same.
One of the paleolakes examined in the study, Jezero Crater, is a potential landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission to look for signs of past life.
The Palouse River Canyon in eastern Washington that was carved by catastrophic flooding during the last ice age
Dr Goudge and NASA scientist Dr Caleb Fassett proposed the crater as a landing site based on prior studies that found it held water for long periods in Mars' past.
Massive floods flowing from Martian craters might sound like a scene in a science fiction novel.
But similar process creating similar shapes occurs on Earth when lakes dammed by glaciers break through their icy barriers.
"This tells us that things that are different between the planets are not as important as the basic physics of the overflow process and the size of the basin,” said Dr Goudge.