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Computer artwork looking over the rivers of the Kasei Valley as the Sun sets on Mars 3.5 billion years ago

Much of the water that filled Mars’s lakes and rivers (artist’s illustration) billions of years is now hidden in the planet’s rocks. Credit: Kees Veenenbos/Science Photo Library

Planetary science

Where has all Mars’s water gone? The answer might be well buried

A leading theory says that the red planet lost its ancient water to space, but research suggests that Martian minerals sucked up some of it.

Much of the water that once flowed across Mars is now locked up in minerals in the planet’s rocks.

Geological features, such as channels and shorelines, on Mars show that rivers and oceans covered much of the planet eons ago. Over time, that water vanished, leaving the planet mostly arid, except for ice at its poles and beneath its surface. One leading theory is that the water escaped to space.

Eva Scheller at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and her colleagues used observations from spacecraft and data from Martian meteorites to develop a detailed picture of where those ancient oceans might have gone.

The team’s models show that during the first one billion to 2 billion years of Martian history, roughly a third to nearly all of the water on the planet’s surface became incorporated into minerals in its crust. As rocks on the surface weathered, they sequestered water from the atmosphere.

This process is at least as important as atmospheric escape in explaining the drying of Mars.

More Research Highlights...

Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty

Agriculture

Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty

Metabolism

A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
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