Environmental Effects of Large Impacts on Mars

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Science  06 Dec 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5600, pp. 1977-1980
DOI: 10.1126/science.1073586

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The martian valley networks formed near the end of the period of heavy bombardment of the inner solar system, about 3.5 billion years ago. The largest impacts produced global blankets of very hot ejecta, ranging in thickness from meters to hundreds of meters. Our simulations indicated that the ejecta warmed the surface, keeping it above the freezing point of water for periods ranging from decades to millennia, depending on impactor size, and caused shallow subsurface or polar ice to evaporate or melt. Large impacts also injected steam into the atmosphere from the craters or from water innate to the impactors. From all sources, a typical 100-, 200-, or 250-kilometers asteroid injected about 2, 9, or 16 meters, respectively, of precipitable water into the atmosphere, which eventually rained out at a rate of about 2 meters per year. The rains from a large impact formed rivers and contributed to recharging aquifers.

  • * Present address: NASA-Ames Research Center, MS 245-3, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA.

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