NASA confirms that there is flowing water on Mars
NASA has certainly learned the value of presentation. In years past, the space agency would just send out the odd press release, humbly announcing that it had discovered a new potentially Earth-like planet or casually confirming that it uncovered a new mineral on an asteroid.
Thankfully, those days are passed. NASA has learned the art of PR, which means people are actually paying attention to its incredible announcements.
In a press conference that was teased last week, NASA today announced that it now has the “strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.”
This is a big deal.
The discovery came thanks to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Using an imaging spectrometer, researchers found evidence of hydrated minerals. These minerals were found among mysterious dark streaks known as recurring slope lineae scattered across the surface of the Red Planet, which no had been able to conclusively explain.
These streaks seem to appear and disappear, but it now looks like a better description would be that they ebb and flow. The streaks are related to the temperature on the planet. When it hits 10-degrees Fahrenheit and up, the streaks appear; they disappear when it gets colder.
The new discovery is specifically focused on hydrated salts, which create a liquid brine that can exist at temperatures below freezing. The creates minerals known as perchlorates, which can keep liquids from freezing in extreme temperatures, as low as 94-degrees Fahrenheit.
The researchers can’t definitively confirm where the water is coming from: it could be a shallow subsurface stream, the salts could be pulling moisture from the atmosphere, or it might be a more significant source of liquid under the surface. That lack of details may disappoint some, but for researchers it just means that there is still more to discover on Mars.
Researchers have known for years that there is some water on Mars, as evidenced by the frozen poles and the occasional frozen puddle that appears on the surface at night. The significance of this discovery is that the water is flowing.
“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water – albeit briny – is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”
These streaks were first discovered back in 2010 by then-University of Arizona undergraduate student Lujendra Ojha. Following graduation, Ojha joined the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he went on to be the lead author on the paper outlining the discovery.
“When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” Ojha said. “Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”
This discovery furthers the possibility that there could be microscopic life on Mars, but it also has implications for the future of humanity.
“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program said. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”