This article is from
Creation 27(3):23, June 2005

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

Water, water, where are you?

Confusion reigns on the Martian surface


Scientists are still very excited about the possibility of finding water on Mars. Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the instruments aboard the recent NASA Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), Spirit and Opportunity, said, ‘We have concluded the rocks here were once soaked in liquid water.’1 However, despite all the appearances that water once existed, scientists appear disappointed in the findings of the MER mission. Why so?

Photo by NASA

Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Exploration Rover

Each Mars Exploration Rover has a mass of 174 kg (384 lbs) and is 1.6 m (5.2 ft) long. The rovers can travel up to 100 m (100 yards) per day, although they usually complete much less as they stop to study rocks and other features. During the day, solar panels recharge batteries needed to power the vehicles, including eight on-board heaters to protect their electronics against the extreme cold –105°C (–155°F).

As far back as 1877, an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Schiaparelli saw thin, dark lines on the Martian surface, which he called canali. Simply translated, this meant ‘channels’. But in 1905, another astronomer, Percival Lowell, mistook this expression for ‘canals’, a word meaning that they were complete with running water.2

It’s been no secret that for a long time, the canyons and sedimentary layering on Mars have been interpreted as evidence that Mars was once abundantly covered with water. Back in 2001, NASA said, ‘Mars may once have been a very wet place. A host of clues remain from an earlier era, billions of years ago, hinting that the Red Planet was host to great rivers, lakes and perhaps even an ocean.’ 3

So, is the real reason for multi-million–dollar scientific excursions to Mars to confirm that water once existed there? That was already believed due to the evidence of canyons and craters. A 2001 NASA article, The Case of the Missing Mars Water, reveals the real agenda:

‘The reason for the intense interest in Martian water is simple: Without water, there can be no life as we know it. If it has been 3.5 billion years since liquid water was present on Mars, the chance of finding life there is remote. But if water is present on Mars now, however well hidden, life may be holding on in some protected niche.’3

Of course they eagerly hoped and expected to find water. Based on evolutionary ideas, they believe that where there is water, there will be life. And even alleged hints of life would surely fuel further research, which may explain the ‘the hype’ over alleged evidence of ‘past water’.

But does it really matter if water were found on Mars? Does that prove life once existed there? No! Life does not spontaneously arise out of water, even with chemicals. 4 It is the result of special creation. On Earth, the evidence of enormously complex amounts of information stored on the DNA of every living creature bears the inescapable hallmark of an incredibly intelligent designer. Therefore, Christians need not worry about claims, or even evidence, of water on other planets as a precursor for life. In any case, the Bible suggests that the universe had a watery beginning, so planets may indeed contain water (2 Peter 3:5).

Anomalies everywhere

Photo by NASA

Mars’ landscape

The Mars Rover stares out across a barren wasteland scattered with broken rocks and dust as far as the eye can see.

Photo by NASA

Mars’ ridge

Looking out from a ridge (above), a Mars rover scans a desolate landscape.

If water did once exist on the surface of Mars, then where has it gone? This remains one of the greatest quandaries for scientists hopeful of finding a few Martian microbes in some icy pothole. The following are some of the anomalies for ‘water on Mars’ ideas.

  • Mars is a barren and freezing cold desert, so liquid water could not exist—it’s either solid or vapour.
  • Even if it weren’t so cold, the thin atmosphere and lack of pressure would allow water to entirely evaporate off the surface and prevent re-condensing.
  • Thus there would be no rain or snow either.
  • Limestone formations have not yet been found, suggesting that Mars never had oceans or seas.5
  • Some believe that if water were now trapped below the Martian surface, it must have existed on the surface at some stage to have created the geology we see today.
  • If water originally existed on the surface at some stage, then how or why did it go underground?
  • If water had been spewed out from underground sources or volcanoes, then it would have quickly evaporated, meaning there was little time to create geological formations. There would certainly be insufficient time for life to have evolved on the surface, even according to postulated evolutionary beliefs.

Photo by NASA

Geologic feature on Mars

No liquid water has been found on Mars. Nevertheless, there are intriguing signs that suggest recent flows of liquid water, like the image at left. Photographed from space, this geologic feature shows patterns strikingly similar to those found on Earth resulting from flowing water. The gullies comprise a deep channel with an ‘alcove’ (collapsed area) at the top end; and an ‘apron’ at the other end, comprising debris apparently transported down the slope.

‘They could be a few million years old, but we cannot rule out that some of them are so recent as to have formed yesterday.’ —Dr Michael Malin, Principal Investigator, Mars Orbiter Camera.

These contradictions provide enormous and baffling problems for evolutionary scientists. Mike Carr from the US Geological Survey and author of a book called Water on Mars said, ‘… I think a lot of it is just not understood yet. It’s very hard to understand. The whole business of the oceans, the evidence is so contradictory.’

To overcome the anomaly of the lack of water on Mars, evolutionary scientists speculate that conditions may have been different in the past—the climate may have been warmer and wetter. The changes, they say, may have been caused by some global Martian catastrophe that might have even caused an orbit change.

It seems remarkable that scientists are happy to postulate the idea that there were once massive amounts of water on Mars. Some have even suggested that there was a global flood there that forever altered conditions.

Such wrestling with the contradictions displays that they are really just guessing what happened. Yet Earth also contains abundant evidence for a global flood—the enormous amount of sedimentary layering, the fossils those layers contain (evidence of rapid burial) and vast canyons. There is also plenty of liquid water (70% of Earth’s surface is covered by water, and there is enough to cover the whole planet to a depth of 3 km (2 miles) if it were perfectly smooth6). In addition, no guesswork is required. The Bible provides a detailed eyewitness account of the global catastrophe that changed Earth.

How can scientists ignore the abundant evidence on Earth, yet believe so much about so little on Mars? The Bible also gives us great insight into this problem. It says, ‘But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water’ (2 Peter 3:5) [emphasis added].

Super evidence that Earth is special

The lack of life on Mars also presents massive problems for those who think life originally came to Earth from Mars by way of some space spores (panspermia). Thus, for them, the origin of life on Earth also remains a puzzle. This is something that they hope discoveries of life on Mars will help solve.

This entire mystery only shows how special life really is. It is more than ‘just add water’. Liquid water and the entire hydrological cycle of Earth can exist thanks to its protective atmosphere and special location in our solar system. Should we be surprised that Earth looks like it has been specially designed for life—particularly with its vast array of incredibly complex creatures that appear specially designed to inhabit all sorts of differing conditions? Of course not. The more we explore other planets, and indeed the universe, the more we should stand in awe of the One who made them. The ‘mystery on Mars’ only reinforces that life on Earth was no accident.

Mars facts


Diameter: 6,794 km (Earth: 12,756 km)

Temperature range: –140°C to 20°C (Earth: –69°C to 58°C)

Atmosphere: Mainly carbon dioxide (Earth: mostly nitrogen and oxygen)

Winds: Up to 100 km/h (Earth: up to 483 km/h)

Moons: 2

Average distance from sun: 228 million km (Earth: 150 million km)

Orbital period: 1 Earth year, 320 days, 18.2 hours

Rotation: 24 hours 37 minutes

Tilt: 25.19° (Earth: 23.45°)

Composition: Iron oxides and silicates (Earth: Iron core and silicate surface)

Magnetic field: Likely extinct—only a few magnetic anomalies remain.

Italian astronomer Galileo (1564–1642) made the first telescopic observation of Mars in 1609.

Olympus Mons is the largest volcano known in our solar system—25 km high, covering an area of 624 sq. km.

Posted on homepage: 3 July 2006

References and notes

  1. Walton, M., NASA: Liquid water once on Mars, cnn.com, 3 March 2004. Return to text.
  2. Lowell took this a step further, believing that these ‘canals’ were constructed by intelligent Martian beings. Return to text.
  3. The Case of the Missing Mars Water, science.nasa.gov, 30 June 2004. Return to text.
  4. See Q&A: Origin of Life. Return to text.
  5. Carbonates such as limestone (CaCO3) are formed in the presence of carbon dioxide and water. Because the atmosphere mainly comprises carbon dioxide (95%) and there is evidence of past water, there should be deposits of carbonate. Study: No evidence of standing water on Mars, usatoday.com, 30 June 2004. Return to text.
  6. A good authority for this may surprise some people: Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of Darwin’s theory! So he counts as a hostile witness, and he was a surveyor so knew what he was talking about in this case. See Man’s Place in the Universe, Ch. XII, wku.edu, for his calculations. Return to text.