NASA scientists say they’re still trying to figure out the chemistry and source of the water on the red planet, the discovery has them now rethinking whether Mars can support present day microbial life.
WASHINGTON, DC, USA (SEPTEMBER 28, 2015) (NASA TV) – Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet’s summer months, NASA scientists confirmed on Monday (September 28).
“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past. Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars,” said Jim Green, the agency’s director of planetary science said at a news conference.
Scientists analyzing data from a NASA spacecraft have found the first evidence that briny water flowed on the surface of Mars as recently as last summer, a paper published on Monday showed, raising the possibility that the planet could support life.
Although the source and the chemistry of the water is unknown, the discovery will change scientists’ thinking about whether the planet that is most like Earth in the solar system could support present day microbial life.
“It suggests that it would be possible for life to be on Mars today,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administration for science, told reporters. “Liquid water has been found on Mars,” he added.
The discovery was made when scientists developed a new technique to analyze chemical maps of the surface of Mars obtained by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.
They found telltale fingerprints of salts that form only in the presence of water in narrow channels cut into cliff walls throughout the planet’s equatorial region.
The slopes, first reported in 2011, appear during the warm summer months on Mars, then vanish when the temperatures drop.
Scientists suspected the streaks, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSL, were cut by flowing water, but previously had been unable to make the measurements.
Whatever the water’s source, the prospect of liquid water, even seasonally, raises the intriguing prospect that Mars, which is presumed to be a cold and dead planet, could support life today.
NASA’s ongoing Mars rover Curiosity has already found evidence that Mars had all the ingredients and suitable habitats for microbial life to exist at some point in its past.
“Mars once was a planet very much like earth, with warm salty seas, with fresh water lakes, probably snow kept peeks and clouds and a water cycle […] But something has happened to Mars it lost its water,” Grunsfeld said.
Billions of years ago, Mars, which lacks a protective, global magnetic field, lost much of its atmosphere. Several initiatives are under way to determine how much of the planet’s water was stripped away and how much remains locked in ice in underground reservoirs.