New findings from researchers at the Planetary Science Institute reveal that some of the deepest basins on Mars were formed by groundwater circulation underneath a massive tectonic rift zone that was found along the sides of some of the solar system's largest volcanic plateaus approximately three billion years ago. These basins were likely gradually covered by lava and water lakes stemming from subsurface pressurized sources over the course of hundreds of millions of years and point to the possibility of Mars harboring life in the past.

"The temperature ranges, presence of liquid water, and nutrient availability, which characterize known habitable environments on Earth, have higher chances of forming on Mars in areas of long-lived water and volcanic processes," Alexis Rodriguez, lead author of the paper, said in a press release. "Existing salt deposits and sedimentary structures of possible emplacement within Martian paleo-lakes are of particular astrobiological importance when looking for past habitable areas on Mars."


"This is particularly true if the discharge of early Mars groundwater, perhaps liked to hydrothermal systems that were active for billions of years, contributed to the formation of the paleo-lakes, as it is proposed in this investigation," he added.

The discovery of these paleo-lake sites on Mars brings up many new questions, especially considering that Mars' cold and thin atmosphere would produce ponded water that would be much different than the Earth's in terms of behavior.

"In this research we propose a Tibetan region where high mountain lakes show unique sets of landforms that might explain some basin interior features in the studied region of Mars," Rodriguez said.

Further research, which will be conducted in collaboration with the Chinese government, will explore this Tibetan region in order to uncover their potential to act as local astrobiological analog sites; this research will be conducted during the summer of 2016.

The findings were released in the Jan. 7 issue of Planetary and Space Science.