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No. 62: Mar-Apr 1989

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Recent Martian Rivers Erode Alba Patera

Most of the Martian surface is thought to be more than 3.8 billion years old. This portion is densely cratered from a period pf heavy meteorite bombardment. It is also carved by many channels that are thought to have been cut in ancient times by flowing water, water which quickly escaped into space or combined chemically with Martian minerals. The present atmosphere of Mars, in consequence, contains little water vapor.

But some of the Martian landscape, notably Alba Patera, raises questions about the above scenario. The anomalous characteristic of Alba Patera is its relative smoothness and scarcity of impact craters. This Martian real estate is believed to be 2 billion years younger than the rest of the planet. Even so, it, too, is marked by "fluvial" features that resemble stream beds.

Question #1. How did Alba Patera get smoothed out or "reworked"? In other words, what happened to the ancient craters that must have pocked its surface, as they do everywhere else?

Question #2. Where did the water come from to cut Alba Patera's stream beds if all of the Martian water disappeared 2 billion years earlier?

One line of thought maintains that "fluvial" does not mean "pluvial," and that Martian water has come from below rather than as rain from the atmosphere. Both fluvial episodes, in this view, occurred when something caused the Martian crust to release huge quantities of stored water. Hydrothermal activity is mentioned as a possibility.

(Eberhart, J.; "The Martian Atmosphere: Old Versus New," Science News, 135:21, 1989.)

Comment. Another speculation is that immense quantities of Martian water are tied up in methane hydrate and is released when the ambient temperature is somehow increased or perhaps by seismic activity.

Reference. Anomalous characteristics of the Martian surface are cataloged in chapters AME and AMO in our catalog: The Moon and the Planets. Details here.

From Science Frontiers #62, MAR-APR 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987