There are still no signs of little green men, but NASA announced on Monday the discovery of proof of recent flowing liquid water on Mars. These findings boost the odds that there is life on the Red Planet.
A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience reveals that Earth’s next-door neighbor has multiple dribbles of salt-laden water that were wet, or at least damp, as recently as last year. This is not the first discovery of water on Mars. Scientists confirmed in 2008 that the Red Planet has frozen water. Now instruments aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have found the strongest evidence yet that salt water in liquid form trickles down certain Martian slopes each summer, according to the researchers. Mars is now the only planet in our solar system to show signs of water on its surface, other than our own.
“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.”
Five years ago, researchers spotted dark narrow streaks on Mars’s surface that tend to appear and grow during the warmest Martian months and fade the rest of the year. The streaks looked like signs of liquid water, but landslides or dust couldn’t be ruled out. Scientists used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter examine the evidence. The spacecraft found wet molecules of perchlorate, which are chemicals made up of chlorine and oxygen.
The study’s lead author, Lujendra Ojha, determined that something must be moistening Mars’s deposits of perchlorate—and that it must be liquid water.
Life Beyond Earth?
Because liquid water is necessary for life, the findings suggest “that it would be possible for there to be life today on Mars,” NASA’s science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, said at a news conference.
Ojha, however, notes the salty water spotted by his team would not be a good home for living creatures, since perchlorates are toxic.
Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars exploration program, said the best way for now to determine whether there’s life on Mars is to collect rocks and soil for study on Earth. A U.S. lander set for liftoff in 2020 will do just that.