NASA Video Shows Mars 4 Billion Years Ago

By: By Laura Dattaro
Published: November 14, 2013

NASA’s newest Mars probe is a mission 4 billion years in the making.

MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, will orbit the red planet to study its climate, which today is frigid and barren, encircled in an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. But 4 billion years ago, the planet looked much different, with an atmosphere much more like our own and liquid water covering much of the surface.

A new video from NASA animates the transition of this early Mars — filled with blue sky, rushing rivers and vast lakes — into the desert planet we see today. Fast-moving clouds are meant to imply the passage of time, according to a NASA release. Though results from the various rovers on Mars’ surface have prompted scientists to conclude that the planet back then could have been habitable to life, no signs of any such life have been found, and are not included in the video.

Scientists know Mars had liquid water based on surface features and mineral evidence. Mars would have had to be coated in as much as 1,640 feet of water planet-wide to explain the surface features, according to a NASA release, and in order to sustain so much water, it would have needed a much thicker atmosphere.

“The interiors of some impact craters have basins suggesting crater lakes, with many showing connecting channels consistent with water flows into and out of the crater,” Joseph Grebowsky, the mission’s project scientist, said in the release. “Minerals are present on the surface that can only be produced in the presence of liquid water.”

It’s not entirely clear how Mars lost its atmosphere, though one leading theory suggests that it’s linked to the disappearance of Mars’ magnetic field. Scientists hope MAVEN, which appears at the end of the video, will help us understand the planet’s dramatic change in climate. MAVEN is set to launch from Cape Canaveral on Monday.

MORE: Images from the Mars Rover


Featured Blogs

Earth Has Its 4th Warmest March on Record; Weekend Severe Weather Outbreak Coming

By Dr. Jeff Masters
April 23, 2014

March 2014 was the globe's 4th warmest March since records began in 1880. March 2014 global land temperatures were the 5th warmest on record, and global ocean temperatures were also the 5th warmest. The year-to-date January - March period has been the 7th warmest on record for the globe. One billion-dollar weather-related disaster hit the Earth during March 2014: Southeastern Brazil's worst drought in 50 years, which has cost at least $4.3 billion so far this year.

March 2014 4th Warmest Globally

By Christopher C. Burt
April 22, 2014

NOAA released its global March 2014 summary today (April 22nd) which stated that it was the 4th warmest March on record over global land and ocean surfaces since 1880. The global average temperature for the month was 12.3°C (54.1°F) which was 0.71°C (1.28°F) above the 20th century average.

I am a Failed Father

By Shaun Tanner
April 17, 2014

Being a father is very hard! I know, I sound like a whiner, but I felt especially bad this week when I caused my daughter to miss the lunar eclipse.

Polar Vortex, Global Warming, and Cold Weather

By Stu Ostro
January 10, 2014

Some thoughts about the recent viral meme(s).

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.

Astronomical VS. Meteorological Winter

By Tom Niziol
March 1, 2013