NASA Confirms Flowing Water On Mars; Stops Short Of Confirming Life On The Red Planet


In case you missed it, NASA announced a pretty significant discovery regarding Mars this morning. Now I’m no scientist, and I don’t pretend to understand all of this, but the fact that NASA confirmed the existence of flowing water on Mars is pretty dang cool. Using an imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), NASA researchers were able to determine that dark streaks that ebb and flow over time on the surface of Mars in certain areas do in fact contain signatures of hydrated minerals.

“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,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

NASA has labeled these downhill flows recurring slope lineae (RSL), and have indicated that the hydrated salts found within these streaks provide a lower freezing point which would allow the water to flow in Mars’ atmosphere. Scientists also speculated that that the main water source is likely a shallow subsurface flow which rises to the surface during warmer seasons which would explain the RSL streaks.

“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

An animation which simulates a fly-around on Hale Crater shows dark streaks advancing down its slopes during the warm seasons was posted by NASA. Other areas where RSL have been observed on Mars include the slopes at Horowitz Crater and Garni Crater.

Of course, the first question during the live news conference asked about the potential for life on Mars. The response from NASA indicated that life exists in almost all cases where water exists, and while they wouldn’t confirm that life exists on Mars, they did state that these RSLs give them a place to start looking.

The biggest takeaway from this news is the fact that if flowing water exists on the planet, albeit saltwater, definitely helps boost any plans to sustain human life on Mars. I’m sure Mark Watney (from The Martian by Andy Weir) would have been elated to know that water existed on the red planet!

What do you think about NASA’s discovery and announcement? Let us know in the comments below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: NASA
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