liquid water on mars

Image credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A recent discovery by NASA has solved a mystery that has plagued scientists for years. After searching, we have discovered liquid water on Mars. Yes, it’s true, and this may be the key to discovering life as well.

September 28, 2015, was the day we found water on the surface of Mars. The evidence is etched upon the landscape of the planet in darkened areas that run down canyons and hills. During the summer months, dark areas, traveling up to hundreds of meters downhill, pool at the bottom and disappear during the autumn months. These dark streaks make intricate patterns fanning out at the bottom and make scientists take a closer examination.

Michael Meyer, lead scientist on NASA’s Mars exploration program, said,

“There is liquid water on the surface of Mars. Because of this, there should at least be a habitable environment today.”

This water could steer NASA in the direction where life is probable, or it could simply provide a water supply for collection during missions. John Bridges, a professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester, also believes that we could contaminate other planets with microbes from the Earth, making the wet areas of Mars difficult to traverse. Agencies are trying to avoid this problem.

Alfred McEwen, planetary geologist at the University of Arizona, says,

“It is very important to find evidence of ancient life, but it wouldn’t be easy to study the biology. Current life would be more informative.”

Mars: then and now

At one time, it is surmised, Mars was the home of huge amounts of water. There is evidence of lakes, rivers and even oceans of water, an ocean that seemed to cover half the northern hemisphere. This theory comes from the evidence collected in the 70s when the darkened areas were first discovered.

Now, we see that Mars is still the home of liquid water. NASA Mars Global Surveyor took photographs of water bursting through walls and flowing around rocky terrain. In 2011, from spring to fall, liquid streams were found flowing down crater walls. This was captured with a high-resolution camera of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Not to jump ahead or assume, but NASA named these phenomena, RSL (Recurring Slope Linneae).

Lujendra Ojha together with his colleagues of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta used a spectrometer on the MRO to view infrared light reflected off the dark streaks. These streaks appeared and disappeared on the Martian surface during the summer.

From start to finish, Ojha wanted to analyze the chemistry in the flow. Hydrated salts-chlorates and perchlorates- were found in the Hale, Palikir and Horowitz Craters. There was also evidence of this composition in the Coprates Chasma, a large canyon. The presence of these salts is a huge indicator of liquid water. This salt lowers the freezing point of water, making it possible to create flow at as low a temperature as -23 C. Hence the water flow on the otherwise extremely cold surface.

The main focus, as of now, is to figure out where the water is originating. There are a few theories as to where this water comes from. Perhaps the water rises up from underground aquifers or falls to the surface from the atmosphere. One outstanding theory suggests that salts on the Martian surface absorb water from the air. The same thing happens in the Atacama Desert, and the process is called deliquescence. We have yet to find the source or reason for this amazing discovery.

Bridges says,

Our view of Mars is continually changing. The discovery of water will be a discussion for a long time to come.”

It surely will!

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Sherrie is a freelance writer and artist with over 10 years of experience. She spends most of her time giving life to the renegade thoughts. As the words erupt and form new life, she knows that she is yet again free from the nagging persistence of her muse. She is a mother of three and a lifetime fan of the thought-provoking and questionable aspects of the universe.