Scientists say red
planet appears to have flowing water
Several small streams of salty water are found along the slopes of craters on Mars, NASA officials and scientists announced Monday. The finding, based on data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is the strongest evidence that liquid water can be found on the red planet.
“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. “Under certain circumstances liquid water has been found on Mars.”
Scientists said that during the spring and summer periods on Mars, evidence shows that water flows down streams that are at least 300 feet long and up to 15 feet wide. The source of the water is unknown, scientists said.
The water could come from a source just under the surface, which could be a result of melting ice or water vapor from the planet’s thin atmosphere. More missions to Mars are needed to confirm the water source, researchers said during the press briefing Monday morning.
An imaging tool aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was used to confirm the water flow by using light waves. The seasonal dark steaks, found especially during the Martian summer, strongly suggest the existence of water.
Lujendra Ojha a Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta is the lead author of the research paper that detailed the findings in the journal Nature Geoscience. The findings were published Monday. He first discovered the streaks in 2011 as an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona.
Another instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected hydrated salts in four regions on Mars, Ojha said.
Scientists have been pretty certain water existed on Mars. In 2008 scientists confirmed frozen water on the polar caps of the planet.
Evidence also shows a “significant volume” of water exists on Mars, said University of Arizona’s Alfred McEwen, who is a scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It isn’t standing water that would form lakes on the Mars surface. The findings indicate thin layers of wet soil, he said.
The findings indicate more than just water to possibly drink on Mars, researchers said.
“It suggests that it would be possible for there to be life today on Mars,” said NASA’s science mission director, John Grunsfeld.
Liquid water is essential to life, so the findings announced indicate that the odds of life on Mars are very high, McEwen said. That life is likely tiny microbes that exist under the crust of Mars, he added.
As NASA works on possible manned missions to Mars by 2030, it could make life easier for astronauts to visit or live on the planet.
Water could be used for drinking and creating oxygen. The oxygen and other resources on Mars could be used to even produce rocket fuel.
The “water on Mars,” announcement reignited the imagination of scientists and educators alike.
Daniel Newmyer, the director of education for Space Center Houston, hopes that the discovery will help ignite the passion of the future astronauts, engineers and scientists who will work on manned missions to Mars. Space Center Houston’s education programs are already focused on NASA’s Mars efforts, he said.
“Our educational center uses the excitement and energy around space exploration to engage students in science and other skills that prepare them to be the workforce of the future,” Newmyer said. “The children we teach and inspire today could be among the first humans who will walk on Mars.”
The nonprofit organization already teaches students about space exploration and how to live in habitats on other worlds.
Ravi Prakash, a Texas City native who was a team member with NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, said the findings should reinvigorate the discussion about exploration.
“To me it reinvigorates why we do these things and why we explore,” he said. “We are trying to answer the questions people have had forever.
What else is out there?
“We are one step closer to answering the question, is there life on Mars and other (planets).”