Our Planet

How Mars would look if it still had water

by Our Planet


What if Mars still had liquid water on its surface and a thick atmosphere filled with clouds, like Earth? How would it look like? Software engineer Kevin Gill of JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) wondered this and prepared an image using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)(1) and Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA)(2). The result is stunning!
Gill picked an arbitrary sea level, and used GIMP (a free and open-source raster graphics editor used for image retouching and editing) to paint the features onto the satellite images using these measurements.

Mars with water
Mars with water

Gill admits that his process was mostly artistic, rather than scientific. He says he and was inspired by NASA’s “Blue Marble” images.

It would be a great thing if we had another pale blue dot in our Solar System, though.

In 2013, NASA also published a video which shows what did Mars look like when it had water (four billion years ago, Mars was covered in water).

“Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water – a critical ingredient for life. The animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared during this ancient clement period, beginning with a flyover of a Martian lake. The artist’s concept is based on evidence that Mars was once very different. Rapidly moving clouds suggest the passage of time, and the shift from a warm and wet to a cold and dry climate is shown as the animation progresses. The lakes dry up, while the atmosphere gradually transitions from Earthlike blue skies to the dusty pink and tan hues seen on Mars today.”


  1. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006.
  2. The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) is an instrument on the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) that mapped the height of surface features on Mars. It was one of five instruments on the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft, which operated in Mars orbit from September 1997 to November 2006. However, the MOLA instrument transmitted altimetry data only until June 2001.