NASA’s big reveal: Flowing water on Mars, and it could mean life on red planet

September 29, 2015 3:10 am

Mars appears to have flowing rivulets of salty water, at least in the
summer, scientists reported in a finding that could have major
implications for the possibility of life on the red planet.
http://www.jokpeme.com/2015/09/nasas-big-reveal-flowing-water-on-mars.html
“It
suggests that it would be possible for there to be life today on Mars,”
’s mission chief, John Grunsfeld, said at a
conference.
Scientists in 2008 confirmed the existence of frozen
water on Mars. But instruments aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
have yielded the strongest evidence yet that salt water in liquid form
flows down certain Martian slopes each summer, according to the
researchers.
“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of
in the past,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science for NASA.
“Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.”

The rivulets – if that’s what they are, since the evidence for
their existence is indirect – are about 12 to 15 feet wide and 300 feet
or more long, scientists said.
“What we’re dealing with is wet
soil, thin layers of wet soil, not standing water,” said Alfred McEwen
of the University of Arizona at Tucson, the principal scientist for the
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s high-resolution imaging experiment.

Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanate out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. Photo: Nasa/AFP/Getty Images
Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope
lineae emanate out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. Photo:
Nasa/AFP/Getty Images

Satellite images have identified narrow streaks that appear on slopes during warm seasons, lengthen, and then fade when conditions become cooler. Photo / NASA
Satellite images have identified narrow
streaks that appear on slopes during warm seasons, lengthen, and then
fade when conditions become cooler. Photo / NASA
Because liquid water is essential to life, the findings
could boost the odds of life on Mars. The researchers said in the
journal Nature Geoscience that further exploration is warranted to
determine whether microscopic life exists on the planet.
McEwen
said he, for one, believes the possibility of life on Mars to be “very
high,” though it would be microbial and somewhere in the Martian crust.
The
presence of liquid water could also make life easier for astronauts
visiting or living on Mars. Water could be used for drinking and for
creating oxygen and rocket fuel. NASA’s goal is to send humans there in
the 2030s.
The evidence of flowing water consists of dark, narrow
streaks on the surface that tend to appear and grow during the warmest
Martian months and fade the rest of the year.

Mars
is extremely cold even in summer, and the streaks are in places where
the temperature has climbed above minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit. But salt
can lower the freezing point of water and melt ice.
The source of
the water is a mystery. Scientists noted it could be melting ice, an
underground aquifer, water vapor from the thin Martian atmosphere, or
some combination.

McEwen
said that there appears to be a “significant volume” of water,
speculating it could fill many Olympic swimming pools, but that it is
spread thin.
The streaks were spotted by the orbiter’s
high-resolution, telescopic camera. Another on-board instrument detected
the chemical signature of salt compounds combined with water.
Michael
Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars exploration program, said the
only definitive way for now to determine whether there’s life on Mars is
to collect rocks and soil for analysis on Earth – something a U.S.
lander set for liftoff in 2020 will do.
Now that scientists know what they’re looking for, a better, more methodical search can be carried out, Green said.
“Water
is one of the most precious resources necessary for a human mission to
the red planet,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House
science, and technology committee. “The more evidence we find of
it, the more encouraged I am for future Mars missions.”
Present-day
Mars is nothing like ancient Mars. Three billion years ago, our most
Earthlike neighbor had a huge ocean, but something radical happened, and
exactly what remains a mystery.
The idea of water – and life – on Mars has been irresistible to earthlings for generations.
In
1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli spied what he called
“canali” on Mars – Italian for “channels” – but the word was
mistranslated as “canals” in English, causing imaginations to run wild.
In the early 1900s, amateur astronomer Percival Lowell claimed to have
spotted irrigation canals and theorized they were built by Martians.
In
2008, NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars and confirmed the
long-suspected presence of ice in the soil. The Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter has been circling the planet since 2006.
The lead author of the research paper, Lujendra Ojha, is a Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Institute of Technology.
For NASA, at least, the timing couldn’t be better. This Friday, the NASA-approved movie “The Martian” has its premiere.

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