Perceptions that ancient Mars was a warm planet could be totally wide of the mark, according to a Harvard professor.
A study lead by Robin Wordsworth, assistant professor at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, claims that the erosion patterns on the surface of the Red Planet are in line with wearing away caused by ice and snow run off – rather than flowing water, which has been widely theorised.
If Mars were to have been extremely cold and icy, the chances of life having survived there are even slimmer, suggests the research paper published on 26 June 2015 in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.
By imitating the atmospheric conditions over billions of years using 3D models, Wordsworth and his colleagues were able to examine the flow of water on Mars.
Scenario one looked at Mars as a temperate place, with the planet's temperature at 10C. The second looked at Mars with a global temperature of -48C.
It found that the second scenario was more successful at creating the features similar to what the Red Planet has now. Additionally, the study states that the atmospheric conditions of the colder scenario were in line with the history of the sun's temperature 3 to 4 billion years ago.
Another factor that the researchers have taken into consideration was the fact that there would have been a thicker atmosphere in ancient Mars, which would have kept it colder.
Wordsworth said: "I'm still trying to keep an open mind about this. There is lots of work to be done."