NASA Discovers Liquid Water on Mars
NASA has announced that liquid water has been found on the red planet Mars. In the past it was known that water existed on Mars in the form of ice, but scientists thought that the atmosphere was simply too thin for liquid water to be even remotely possible.
“While the discovery doesn’t by itself offer evidence of life on Mars, either past or present, it does boost hopes that the harsh landscape still offers some refuge for microbes to cling to existence,” reports fox4kc.com.
“The existence of liquid water, even if it is super salty briny water, gives the possibility that if there’s life on Mars, that we have a way to describe how it might survive,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the science mission.
According to techcrunch.com, the scientists used a spectroscopy technique to analyze the chemical composition of dark streaks they had previously observed on the Martian surface. These streaks had been noticed to vary following temperature changes on the surface — leading to a hypothesis that the substance was water.
“Monday’s announcement appears linked to the release of a new paper in which NASA researchers say analysis of imaging from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that seasonal dark streaks on the Martian surface – formally called “recurring slope lineae” – are the result of briny water periodically flowing across the planet’s surface,” states CNN.
The salt content in the water is crucial because, without it, the water would freeze in Mars’ frequent freezing temperatures. Three of the paper’s co-authors were all participants in Monday’s announcement, including Lujendra Ojha, who is the lead author and was the one who first came across the streaks in 2011 while he was studying at the University of Arizona.
Other participants involved in Monday’s announcement included Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter chief Alfred McEwen, NASA researcher Mary Beth Wilhelm and five other scientists. The article does not provide a full explanation about where the water is coming from, but it does suggest some potential theories though. According to CNN, theories include deliquescence, melting subsurface ice or even a liquid-water aquifer that feeds the process.
“Discovering what precisely is causing the phenomenon is a mystery for the next round of investigations, said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
This is not the first time that water has been discovered on the red planet, suggesting that Mars could have once supported living organisms, or that it still might possibly support life. In fact, the Mars Curiosity rover recently detected methane on the surface of Mars, in addition to other chemicals, suggesting the possibility of life on the planet. Methane is a breakdown product left behind by the decay of living organisms.
Researcher Mary Beth Wilhelm said the results suggest “more habitable conditions on the near surface of Mars than previously thought,” states highlighthollywood.com, depending largely upon how salty and cold the conditions are.
Alfred McEwen, who is in charge of NASA’s HiRISE high-resolution camera aboard the Mars orbiter, said he is pretty confident that life will be found on Mars someday. “It’s very likely, I think, that there’s life somewhere in the crust of Mars,” he said, although the most likely life forms to be found there would probably be microbes.
Jim Green, who is the director of planetary science at NASA, said the discovery puts NASA in a perfect position to look for intelligent life.
“We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’,” Green said. “But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, a great opportunity to be in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.”
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
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