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Water on Mars confounds scientists



Mars. photographed by Viking orbiter.

NASA has found salt water on Mars. But it will never admit where it came from, or when—specifically, from Earth during the Great Flood.

Where is the water on Mars?

Water on Mars flows down the wall of the Newton crater in Martian summer.

The inside wall of Newton crater on Mars shows an apparent seasonal flow of salty water down the wall. Photo: NASA/JPL/Caltech

The water on Mars lies in several places. The polar regions have abundant ice, often no more than a foot below ground. (The Phoenix Lander found it in one of its first digs.) In June of 2000, the Mars Global Surveyor took pictures of gullies on several high cliffs and crater walls. That evidence alone suggests that water flowed on Mars recently. But more recently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found gullies forming since man started taking close-up pictures of Mars. This confirms an earlier finding by a roving probe called Spirit, that got stuck in the sand but sent back pictures of a crater wall with clear evidence of a seasonal flow of water. (See also here, here, and here.)

These findings of water on Mars have provoked people into speculating—again—about life on Mars. This time they have a right to speculate about that. A seasonal flow of water on Mars, however light, could support microbes, and especially the very hardy microbes called extremophiles. Extremophiles literally love living in extreme conditions that would kill anything else. No one is likely to find any fertile, green valleys like those on earth. But any form of life would be an exciting find.

But NASA has a problem: Where did the water on Mars come from? And how can it possibly flow?

The problem: it’s cold up there!

The temperature on Mars averages 80°F below zero. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit set the zero of his temperature scale at the freezing point of saturated salt solution. Eighty degrees below zero should be cold enough to freeze any water, no matter what it holds in solution.

Yet we see a seasonal flow of water on Mars, and specifically on mountain faces and crater walls that face the equator. No one disputes that. The question, again, is: where did it come from?


Water on Mars cannot stay liquid on the surface. Not in that cold, it can’t. So it must come from below or from above. But if it comes from below, then first one must figure out what makes it warm down below. (We cannot just assume that any planet will have a hot core. We have to know why it’s hot and how hot.) Second, even if Mars has a hot core, the surface is so cold that any water that pushed up to within a mile or two below ground, would freeze.

That leaves water coming from above.

How water came from above.

Obviously liquid water did not cross space and fall as a liquid onto the Martian ground. Instead, balls of ice fell on Mars, melted when they fell, and re-froze. If re-entry would not melt the ice, the impact would. Any object that slams into another, unyielding object will turn all its kinetic energy (the energy of motion) into simple heat. And it will do so in full measure. The First Law of Thermodynamics makes it clear: energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Or in this case: “Heat is work, and work is heat.”

So how can water on Mars flow today? It’s not a matter of the seasons (although it is more likely to happen in summer than in winter). All the gullies have appeared on cliff faces or on crater walls. That is no coincidence. An impact makes a crater. And an impact releases heat.

Walt Brown, at the Center for Scientific Creation, explains it here.


Where the water from Mars came from

The water came to Mars all at once, during the same great bombardment that pockmarked the Moon, gave it its “face,” and locked it to keep that face toward the earth. In the case of Mars, several comets and ice-laden asteroids fell onto Mars and melted. These objects delivered twice as much water as Lake Michigan holds. Some of that water formed pools inside the craters; the rest flowed downhill and caused the erosion patterns that astronomers have seen for years. The water on Mars was enough to cause rain to fall, and even flash flooding.

But Mars was cold then, and is cold today. So the water on Mars did not set up a “water cycle” like that on earth. Today, water flows on Mars only when another object, i.e. a meteor, falls to Mars and melts some of the ice.

So Mars never had an ocean. Nor did the water disappear, as others have speculated before. It’s still on Mars, only frozen, either as blocks of ice or as frost mixed into the soil.

The objects that did the bombardment came from one event that threw vast quantities of water, rock and mud into space. That event was the Great Flood. That’s why the water is salty.

Featured image: a mosaic of Mars from the orbiters of Project Viking. Photo: NASA/Johnson Space Center. See here for guidelines for use.


See NASA video here.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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Alex Morgan

We know that there is water underneath the surface of Mars due to observations from orbiting spacecraft. This frozen water exists at depths very close to the surface (under a meter). We know this because landers (such as Phoenix) saw this water shortly after landing. It is unknown whether Mars has an active core or not, but the heat likely comes from impactors (asteroids, comets and the like), which provide energy to heat the ice. This heat can continue heating the ice for tens of thousands of years after the impact. This is known as a post-impact hydrothermal (PIH) system.

As this is practically universally accepted by the scientific community, there are a number of papers on the subject. Here are a few I would recommend:

Barnhart, C.J., Nimmo, F., Travis, B.J. Martian post-impact hydrothermal systems incorprating Freezing. doi:10.1016/j.icarus2010.01.013

Fassett, C.I., Head, J.W. Sequence and timing of conditions on early Mars. doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2010.11.014

Thorsos, I.E., Newsom, H.E., Davies, A.G. Availibility of heat to drive hydrothermal systems in large martian impact craters. LPSC 2001 abstract

Wang, C., Manga, M., Wong, A. Floods on Mars released from groundwater by impact. doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2004.12.003

Schulze-Makuch, D. et al. Exploration of hydrothermal targets on Mars. doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2007.02.007

Daniel Brewer

Average temperature is not the same as peak temperature; earths average temperature is 57F(by the authors logic, the only explanation for ice on earth would be supernatural intervention from space as well); much lower than the peak, while this article has the average temperature correct, the peak temperatures on mars can get up and above 80F(this is very rare, but does happen in the right areas at the right time); still, keeping in mind that the waterflow is only seasonal, and the freezing point of saltwater is around 0F(like the article said), its not farfetched at all to say that the temperature at this area is naturally warm enough for liquid water.

Much more reasonable than 3 trillion metric tons of water traveling at 23,000 MPH(Hohmann transfer) to get to mars.


Do you have any notion of the velocity at which water would have to be propelled to escape Earth’s gravitational field? With all due respect for your faith held beliefs, your hypothesis simply does not work, and is completely at odds with our knowledge of physics.


I’m more than familar with the various “hydroplate” theories, as well as their origins and motivations. While your mathematical description of escape velocity is accurate, it is only applicable to solids, not water, as you assert. Can you elaborate on that fact? Would you care to examine the aerodynamic qualities of liquids as compared to solids?

You’ve made an assertion that the Biblical global flood is a fact, and you (and no shortage of others) have gone to great lengths to bend science to support your faith held beliefs.

You’ve made the claim, therefore the burden of proof is on you. And your article is a poor argument that flies in the face of well known knowledge of physics, as well as the cosmos.

That said, I do respect your right to believe whatever you like. Just don’t call it science when it is not.


Please feel free to share my email address with Mr. Brown.

Whether the Biblical accounts regarding the origins of our planet, solar system, and places beyond are factual, or if we’re are merely temporal entities adrift on a small spec of dust in an almost inconceivably vast and old universe is ultimately of little relevance.

What definitely counts is how we treat and interact with each other in the here and now. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to interact civilly with someone I disagree with. Thank you, and have a pleasant evening.

Anubis D

A 3/4 mile thick layer of water inside of our planet in the past, does not explain the megatons of water found in our solar system today. That alone makes your argument fallacious.
Then you would have to assume travel times into the hundreds of thousands of years for the impact paths you are trying to push. That is FAR older than your holy book says the earth is. Transits with elliptical orbits could only impact the planets at a given time and space.
Not to mention the fact that though you have stated the escape velocity of the earth (~6.96 mi/s) but have forgotten that you would also need to approach the escape velocity of the Sun (~280.810 mi/s) to make comets and asteroids at the edge of our solar system even possible from the source you are describing.

Feel free to forward my complaints to your source, but not my email address.

Matt Prorok

You’re speculating that the water that exists on Mars, frozen as it is, came initially from Earth. However, there was a significant amount of water in the protoplanetary disk, and as the planets coalesced, both Earth and Mars would have had water. Why Earth retains more water than the other terrestrial planets is still an open question, but one need not assume that the water on Mars came from Earth; there is water on Mars for the same reason there is water on Earth.

As for how the water is liquid, no impact event is necessarily needed; heat from the Sun could be enough. A salty brine can depress the freezing point of water by as much as 70K, meaning that all of the sites where this phenomenon is noted should be expected to have liquid brines during the Martian summer, which happens to be when the recurring slope lineae appear. The only real question, one which will require further study, is why the spectrometer on the MRO isn’t detecting water in those locations.

Matt Prorok

You’re asking several good questions, but you’re not using them correctly. You’re treating the existence of questions as fatal to a theory, or at least to any theory you’re not proposing. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That said, some of your responses are just plain wrong.

First, regarding the water on Mars, if the water exists as a brine that has a very low freezing point, and thus would be liquid at the temperatures reached during the Martian summer, then it would not actually freeze as it reached the surface. Thats an important part of the proposal. And liquid water seeps upward on Earth all the time, so that’s not exactly a strange phenomenon.

Regarding the angular momentum of the Sun, this is indeed not an entirely solved problem. But you’re neglecting the effect of the Solar wind. High-velocity particles leaving the Sun follow the solar magnetic field lines. As the rotating magnetic field of the Sun tried to drag those particles around with it over its history, they acted as a brake on the Sun’s spin. Although each particle boiled off the Sun carries only a tiny amount of the Sun’s angular momentum with it, over the course of nearly 5 billion years the vast numbers of escaping particles could have robbed the Sun of most of its initial spin.

The claim that no other protoplanetary disks have been observed is just flat wrong. We’ve been finding these around young stars, such as HD 141569A, using the Hubble telescope since at least 2003. And we’ve found, to date, 573 extra-solar planets.

Pluto’s eccentric orbit is readily explained by classifying it as the largest object in the Kuiper belt rather than as a standard planet, with its orbit likely perturbed by the migration of Neptune. Unlike the Oort cloud, with which you tried to confuse the issue and which is a thousand times more distant, we’ve observed well over 1000 Kuiper belt objects.

Since the ecliptic is relative to the Earth’s orbit, it is not a good standard for angular momentum. Rather than saying the Sun’s equator is inclined 7° to the ecliptic, it’s probably more appropriate to say the Earth’s orbit is inclined 7° to the Sun’s equator (the largest inclination of all planets). The best measure with regard to angular momentum is the inclination to the invariable plane. Jupiter is inclined only 0.32° to the invariable plane. Uranus has the largest inclination of the gas giants at 1.02°. The Sun’s equatorial plane is inclined 5.6° to the invariable plane (or you could say the Sun’s axial tilt is 5.6°). Less than six degrees isn’t exactly a huge amount, although for that matter neither is 7°. Why this is the case is an interesting question, but hardly fatal to the theory of a protoplanetary disk. When we say “disk”, we’re only talking about a roughly disk-shaped nebula. Its very possible that the orbits of the planets stabilized before everything had a chance to become completely coplanar. Alternately, the possibility of the ejection of Jupiter-mass objects during solar system formation would cause perturbations as well. Something happened, but the fact that we don’t know exactly what isn’t that big a problem.

I’m not an astronomer, or a professional researcher of any kind. I’m simply scientifically literate. This information isn’t hard to find. There is certainly still much to be learned, but there’s no particular reason to insert miracles just to explain things.

Matt Prorok

I’m perfectly willing to approach the current theories skeptically, but that means real skepticism. I will be convinced by evidence, and unconvinced by claims that don’t have strong evidentiary support. That’s why I’m posting here, in fact; I’m treating your theory with the same skeptical analysis. The basis of your claim is that the water on Mars can only have come from Earth, but there isn’t really any strong evidence for that claim. If you were to have, for example, isotopic analysis of water samples taken from the Martian polar ice sheets that showed that the water had its source on Earth, then you’d have a strong argument.

Regarding whether our solar system is special, I’d say it certainly is; it contains us, it is our home. We are amazing beings, and our accomplishments are something to be proud of. But I’ll refer you to Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, both the book and the photograph. We are tiny specks compared to the Earth, and the Earth is a tiny speck floating through the cosmos, circling a very average star, set in the outer part of one arm of a not-uncommon type of galaxy, floating among two hundred billion galaxies. With the vastness of space taken into consideration, it would be hubris of the highest order to think we are unique, that all of this emptiness was created just for us. Even if the chances of a world like ours existing are one in a billion, or one in ten billion, our galaxy alone has 200-400 billion stars. Special, yes. Unique, not likely.

Matt Prorok

Some very quick research online shows that, while redshift quantization was proposed by William Tifft in 1973, and research done throughout the late 80s and early 90s located a possible periodicity, we can again go to more recent data for a clearer picture. The number of galaxies for which the redshift has been measured has increased by several orders of magnitude since those early investigations, and analysis of the larger data set shows no evidence of quantization beyond what would be expected with galaxy clustering. Here are some of the more recent investigations into the phenomenon:

link to
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I’m not sure that I would be an appropriate subject for a larger debate; again, I’m not a professional scientist, barring computer science. I’m simply a science enthusiast; I know where and how to find information, but I’m by no means an expert. I’ll be happy to be involved in an online forum, as should be clear from my comments here, of course.

Matt Prorok

What you’re seeing is a natural result of the necessary state of the universe. If the universe were truly homegenous, then nothing could form, because all particles would have been at equal distances from each other in the early universe. In order for any particles to clump together through the action of gravity, there had to be areas of greater and lesser density. The universe is necessarily “lumpy”, and there are indeed structures known as galaxy filaments that are composed of gravitationally-bound galaxies.

However, there are no clear concentric rings, at least there aren’t if you haven’t already set your mind to look for them; to the human eye, it may initially appear so, but that’s largely because our vision is pattern-seeking. There isn’t a man in the Moon, or a face on Mars, or an image of the Virgin in a potato chip or water stain. It only looks that way to humans because our brains seek out those patterns. Add a bias towards a given pattern because we want to see it, priming the mental pump as it were, and it becomes even easier to see patterns that simply aren’t there. Faces are one pattern we’ve evolved to seek out; circles are another. That’s why we have the studies I linked, which actually look at the numbers rather than simply eyeballing the picture, and they find no evidence of periodicity. In reality, the distribution approaches randomness, and in random distributions (another thing we have a hard time approximating) there will be clusters. Astronomers are not trying to discredit the idea of a quantized redshift, they’re simply investigating it. If their investigations determine that the hypothesis is not supported by the evidence, that’s not their fault.

Matt Prorok

Again, the potentially misleading visual representation is why we have to do a statistical analysis of the individual redshift values. Which has been done. None found any significant periodicity that is inconsistent with that expected from galaxy clusters. I see this same thing happening with people looking at graphs related to climate change; they think they see a given trend, but numerical analysis shows that their eyes were wrong.

The universe certainly wouldn’t look the same from anywhere in it; you’d see a different pattern of celestial objects from a vantage point even one star system away. But if you happened to be in a neighboring galaxy, I don’t think you’d see the universe pointing a bulls-eye at the Milky Way.

Matt Prorok

Whether all galaxies would have a redshift regardless of one’s point in the universe, i.e. evidence that the universe is expanding, is not what you asked. You asked if the universe would look the same from any point in it, which is a very different question. The galaxies are all getting farther apart, so yes, you would experience a redshift regardless of your position in the universe. I’m sure you’ve heard the analogy, but imagine a balloon with spots painted on it. As the balloon is blown up, the spots get farther apart; no matter where on the balloon you are, all the spots you can see are getting farther away from you. Is the universe like a balloon? Not quite; its far more complex than that, and to my knowledge we don’t have a full answer yet, but its an example that shows you don’t have to be in the center, or for there to even be a central point, for all visible points to be moving away from you.

Regarding the spin of the universe, I wasn’t aware of it. However, from what I can find during some quick research, it was first proposed in 2002, has a paper relating to the subject (link to published this year, and is still an item of some contention. Its based on the findings that galaxies in part of the sky towards the north pole of the Milky Way have a bias towards left-handed rotation while those towards the south pole have a bias towards right-handed rotation, suggesting that at least the observable universe has significant remaining angular momentum. While interesting, it isn’t extraordinary evidence that our place in the universe is somehow special. An interesting implication, however, is that we would never be able to directly detect the spin, since we’re part of the universe and thus spinning with it; we can only indirectly detect it via inference from the spin of galaxies. Such spin could only be directly detected from other universes, at which point one has to consider whether our entire universe is anything particularly unique, or just one of an infinite number of universes.

Matt Prorok

I find it interesting that you chose “astronomical” to describe the odds against the appearance of life on Earth. Because that’s exactly what the odds are: only expressible by numbers frequently used in astronomy. Perhaps the odds of a planet like Earth coming into existence are low, but there are plenty of opportunities even within our own universe. In the Milky Way Galaxy alone, there are 200-400 billion stars. Around those stars, there are an estimated 50 billion planets, 500 million of which are expected to be in the habitable zone. Life arose on Earth fairly early in its history, so it seems that its actually pretty likely that it will happen if conditions are right; even if those conditions only exist on 1 in 100 planets in the habitable zone of a star, that’s 5 million planets containing life. And that’s just our galaxy, one of perhaps 200 million that we can see.

That the universe seems to be “tuned” for life is readily explained by the anthropic principle: the universe exists as we observe it because if it were otherwise, we wouldn’t be here to observe it. Claiming that the conditions for life exist so that we can exist is backwards; we exist because the conditions for life exist. I brought up the multiverse not to convince you of anything, but because it showed up while I was looking into the proposed spin of the universe.

Matt Prorok

I’ve heard of, although not read, the book Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee. I lean towards the mediocrity principle favored by Sagan and Drake, myself. But taking just the concept of the galactic habitable zone, the proposal is that it contains 10% of the stars in the Milky Way. This still leaves 20-40 billion stars based on conservative estimates of the number of stars in the galaxy. That’s still a lot of rolls of the dice, as it were.

Both views are subject to criticism. Both the Rare Earth equation and the Drake equation require lots of conjecture. Most of the values cannot be estimated simply because we have only one data point: the Earth, a rocky planet orbiting a G2 star in a quiet suburb of a large barred spiral galaxy, and the home of the only intelligent species we know.

We’ve come rather far afield from the source of the water on Mars. I think that part of the trouble, whether we’re talking about a planet one hop away from ours or the vastness of the universe, is that you are looking for ways that given data will support your underlying hypothesis, that of a young Earth created by an unprovable divine being, while I’m looking at what conclusions can be reached based on neutral analysis of the data. I’m well aware that I’m not going to shake you from your chosen position. But I prefer my discoveries to be made for their own sake, not twisted around until they fit to a story in an old book.

Matt Prorok

I was raised in a Christian household, and attended church regularly. My school, a public school, appropriately dealt with religion only in its historical context. I’ve come to my atheism honestly, as a result of refusing to believe that which has no evidence. I accept all science as tentative, and any claim to absolutely certain knowledge is suspect. There’s no agenda to real scientific discovery; science is interested in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

On that note, I’ll just leave this here: link to


Water is natural in the Universe it is even found on Asteroids.


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