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By Associated press
BERLIN – Scientists say that crater images taken by European and US space probes show that there had probably already been a planetary system of underground lakes on Mars.
Data collected by NASA and ESA probes in orbit around the red planet provide the first geological evidence of an ancient Martian groundwater system, according to a study by researchers in Italy and in the Netherlands published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Francesco Salese, one of the scientists involved, said in an email Friday that the results confirm earlier models and smaller-scale studies, and that underground lakes might have been connected to each other.
The notion of water on Mars has long fascinated scientists because of the possibility that the planet already had conditions similar to those that allowed life to develop on Earth. Ice sheets previously spotted on Mars provide tantalizing clues of an aqueous past for the arid world.
The researchers said that the flow canals, pore-shaped valleys and fan-shaped sediment deposits observed in craters several kilometers deep in the northern hemisphere of Mars would have need water to form.
The co-author, Gian Gabriele Ori, said that an ocean according to some scientists, Mars may have already had access to underground lakes three or four billion years ago.
The researchers also observed on March traces of minerals, such as clay, that would have required long periods of exposure to water. Ralf Jaumann, a scientist in planetary sciences at the German Aerospace Center who was not directly involved in the study, said such sites were a good starting point for future Martian landers looking for signs of ancient life.
However, Jack Mustard, a professor of geological sciences at Brown University, who was also not part of the study, questioned the newspaper's claims, saying he had not seen evidence of the presence of underground lakes in the data.
"But I'm probably only a skeptical Martian," he added.