Published: Sept. 1, 2009

lake on mars

This geographic rendering of a lake on Mars is a reconstruction of how the lake may have looked 3.4 billion years ago when it was filled with water.

CU investigators discovered the first evidence of shorelines on Mars in June, indicating a deep, ancient lake. A Holy Grail of sorts, the finding could help scientists zero in on evidence of past life on the planet.

Estimated to be more than 3 billion years old, the lake appears to have covered as much as 80 square miles and was up to 1,500 feet deep — similar to Lake Champlain in upper New England — and features deltas adjacent to it.

A high-powered camera, named the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, riding on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, took images used for the study. From its orbit 200 miles above Mars, it can resolve features on the surface down to one meter in size.

“On Earth, deltas and lakes are excellent collectors and preservers of signs of past life,” says Gaetano Di Achille, a research associate with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “If life ever arose on Mars, deltas may be the key for unlocking Mars’ biological past.”

Other space news:

  • CU is working with NASA to extend the internet into outer space and across the solar system. Now being tested at the International Space Station, the system will improve communications with international spacecraft as current technologies function like walkie-talkies. Researchers hope the technology will lead to an interplanetary internet.
  • A CU-designed instrument — the $70 million Cosmic Origin Spectograph — that will probe the evolution of stars, galaxies and intergalactic matter was successfully installed on the Hubble Space Telescope during a May Atlantis space shuttle flight, in part by astronaut John Grunsfeld. He accepted a position as adjoint CU-Boulder professor while in space and will conduct research and teach courses on manned space flight and the development and servicing of future space telescopes.