© NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The mounds shown here, located in the Southern Acidalia Planitia, range in size between 20 and 500 meters in diameter.
If life does - or did - exist on Mars, signs of such life might well be found in a region in the northern plains called Acidalia Planitia, according to a new study.
The region appears to be dotted with what scientists believe are geological structures known as mud volcanoes, spewing out muddy sediments from underground. These sediments might contain organic materials that could be biosignatures of possible past and present life.
"If there was life on Mars, it probably developed in a fluid-rich environment," said lead author Dorothy Oehler, a research scientist at the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
"Mud volcanoes themselves are an indicator of a fluid-rich subsurface, and they bring up material from relatively deep parts of the subsurface that we might not have a chance to see otherwise."
In a study published in the August issue of Icarus
, Oehler and her co-author Carlton Allen mapped, for the first time, more than 18,000 of these circular mounds. Their estimate is that more than 40,000 mud volcanoes could be found in that region if the mapping continued.