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Study indicates life was possible all over Mars

Lyot crater is 210km in diameter. The blue lines show the swathes of data taken by the Mars Express OMEGA sensor. The red boxes show the NASA CRISM pointings. The asterisks show the locations where hydrated minerals were detected. NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/JHU-APL/IAS photo

PARIS (AFP): Conditions suitable for life -- most notably the presence of water -- may once have existed all over Mars, the European Space Agency (ESA) has said.

Hydrated silicate minerals were found by the ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance orbiters in northern lowlands of the Red Planet, a clear indication that water once flowed there, ESA said in a statement Friday ahead of the publication of a study in journal Science.

Water was present on the surface of Mars four billion years ago but lasted for only a few hundred million years, according to principal investigator Jean-Pierre Bibring from the University of Paris.

"It shows that there was water, but not in the form of a large ocean", Bibring told AFP Friday, adding that the Martian crust was hydrated in the same manner in the north and south.

The conclusions contradict those of an American team, who in a study published June 13 in Nature Geoscience journal said a vast ocean covered a third of the surface 3.5 billion years ago.

"Mars had already lost its atmosphere 3.5 billion years ago, water was no longer stable in the liquid state on the surface," said Bibring.

"Huge streams were able to flow, but the lack of surface water meant permanent oceans could not be fed," he said.

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