By Barry Eitel
SAN FRANCISCO (AA) - Enormous tsunamis of nearly incomprehensible size once washed over the surface of Mars billions of years ago, scientists reported Thursday.
They claim the huge waves could have supported ancient alien life.
The researchers, based out of Cornell University, said the tsunamis permanently scarred Mars’ northern hemisphere and were triggered by a pair of two giant meteorites colliding with the planet.
The waves flooded an area roughly the size of California, Oregon and Nevada with waves that peaked at 122 meters (400 feet), which would wash over the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The discovery was published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.
“About 3.4 billion years ago, a big meteorite impact triggered the first tsunami wave,” said co-author Alberto Fairén in a statement. “This wave was composed of liquid water. It formed widespread backwash channels to carry the water back to the ocean.”
When a second meteorite caused another a tsunami millions of years later, Mars’ climate had changed considerably, researchers surmised. The second tsunami formed giant lobes of ice on the planet’s surface that still exist today.
The oceans that bred the tsunamis were likely huge, liquid and foaming, similar to oceans found on Earth. Scientists actually believe there is a good chance the waters supported life on Mars. Since icy remnants still linger on Mars’ surface, researchers said the ice should be sampled.
"Cold, salty waters may offer a refuge for life in extreme environments, as the salts could help keep the water liquid,” Fairén continued. “If life existed on Mars, these icy tsunami lobes are very good candidates to search for biosignatures." A biosignature is any substance that can provide evidence of past or present life.
The researchers’ next task is to examine how space agencies can access the martian areas.
“As a follow-up investigation we plan to characterize these terrains and assess their potential for future robotic or human in-situ exploration,” lead author Alexis Rodriguez said in a statement.