New Delhi: In an ancient valley on mars, scientists have discovered a patch of land that may have been flooded by water in the not-too-distant past and could serve as the prime target to begin searching for evidence of life forms on the red planet.

“On Earth, desert dune fields are periodically flooded by water in areas of fluctuating groundwater, and where lakes, rivers and coasts are found in proximity. These periodic floods leave tell-tale patterns behind them. You can imagine our excitement when we scanned satellite images of an area on Mars and saw this same patterned calling card, suggesting that water had been present in the relatively recent past,” said Mary Bourke from Trinity College Dublin in the UK.

“Following our work in Namibia, we hypothesise that on Mars, similar arcuate striations exposed on the surface between dunes are also indications of fluctuating levels of salty groundwater, during a time when dunes were actively migrating down the valley. These findings are hugely significant. Firstly, the Martian sand dunes show evidence that water may have been active near Mars’ equator – potentially in the not-too-distant past,” Bourke said.

“This location is now a potential geological target for detecting past life forms on the Red Planet, which is important to those involved in selecting sites for future missions,” she added.

The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

(With inputs from agencies)