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Mars was made uninhabitable when its surface water was absorbed into the planet’s crust, Oxford scientists have concluded, reported The Independent.

New research led by the university’s department of Earth sciences provides insight into the subtle changes in planetary conditions that dictate whether life is possible.

The Red Planet was covered in water until around three billion years ago, much like Earth. But modern-day Mars is barren and dry, precluding the existence of Martians anywhere other than in science fiction.

Scientists have long pondered what happened to the water on Mars, with previous research suggesting some of the planet’s water was sucked into space following the collapse of its magnetic field.

However, a new study led by researchers at the University of Oxford suggests the water is still there, locked into the planet’s surface due to chemical reactions with its rocky crust.

“On Mars, water reacting with the freshly erupted lavas that form its basaltic crust resulted in a sponge-like effect,” said Dr. Jon Wade, who led the study, published in the journal Nature.

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