Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Nature Communications


Thayer School of Engineering


Long-lived hydrothermal systems are prime targets for astrobiological exploration on Mars. Unlike magmatic or impact settings, radiogenic hydrothermal systems can survive for >100 million years because of the Ga half-lives of key radioactive elements (e.g., U, Th, and K), but remain unknown on Mars. Here, we use geochemistry, gravity, topography data, and numerical models to find potential radiogenic hydrothermal systems on Mars. We show that the Eridania region, which once contained a vast inland sea, possibly exceeding the combined volume of all other Martian surface water, could have readily hosted a radiogenic hydrothermal system. Thus, radiogenic hydrothermalism in Eridania could have sustained clement conditions for life far longer than most other habitable sites on Mars. Water radiolysis by radiogenic heat could have produced H2, a key electron donor for microbial life. Furthermore, hydrothermal circulation may help explain the region’s high crustal magnetic field and gravity anomaly.



Original Citation

Ojha, L., Karunatillake, S., Karimi, S. et al. Amagmatic hydrothermal systems on Mars from radiogenic heat. Nat Commun 12, 1754 (2021).