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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 14:15 GMT
Mars still alive, experts agree
Evidence for a huge frozen sea sealed in place by overlying deposits

New data from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft suggests liquid water, active volcanism and large glaciers scoured the Red Planet in recent times.

Images from the probe's stereo camera show there was geological activity in the last few million years - just yesterday in geological terms.

Signs of a huge frozen sea on Mars hint the planet could still hold the right conditions for microbial life.

Details of the findings appear in a series of papers in Nature journal.

A team led by Ernst Hauber, of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Berlin, report that glacial deposits formed in depressions on the flank of the volcano Hecates Tholus as recently as five million years ago.

In addition, James Head of Brown University, US, has shown that there has been recent and recurring glacial activity at tropical and mid-latitude regions on Mars.

These include landforms first thought to be glacial during the US space agency's (Nasa) Viking missions in the 1970s.

Frozen sea

The discovery of a frozen sea just below the surface of Mars is thought to have formed within the last five million years. The sea was created through catastrophic flooding that accompanied volcanic eruptions from Cerberus Fossae, near Mars' equator.

Mountain massif, Esa
Mars has been active as little as a few million years ago
It is also in the region where scientists working on another instrument carried by Mars Express have seen the maximum methane concentration in the atmosphere.

Since water is a requirement for living organisms and methane is often produced by microbes on Earth, some scientists believe the findings could have important implications for the search for life on the Red Planet.

Images of the planet from flybys by the Mariner spacecraft in the 1960s led to the view that the planet had been continuously cold and dry.

But that opinion changed in the 1970s, when images from the Mariner 9 orbiter (launched in 1971) and the Viking orbiters revealed river valley networks and huge channels carved by cataclysmic flooding.

Mars reveals more of its secrets to scientists

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