London: The possible presence of a vast ocean on Mars may be the key to unlocking the mystery behind the existence of life on the Red Planet, say scientists.
A recent study, conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, strongly suggests that a massive ocean likely covered one-third of the Martian surface.
A paper on the subject authored by CU-Boulder researcher Gaetano Di Achille and CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Brian Hynek of the geological sciences department appears in the June 13 issue of Nature Geoscience.
More than half of the 52 river delta deposits identified by the CU researchers in the new study - each of which was fed by numerous river valleys - likely marked the boundaries of the proposed ocean, since all were at about the same elevation.
Twenty-nine of the 52 deltas were connected either to the ancient Mars ocean or to the groundwater table of the ocean and to several large, adjacent lakes, Di Achille said.
Di Achille added: "On Earth, deltas and lakes are excellent collectors and preservers of signs of past life.
"If life ever arose on Mars, deltas may be the key to unlocking Mars`` biological past."
Hynek said long-lived oceans may have provided an environment for microbial life to take hold on Mars.