NASA said today that liquid water flows intermittently on Mars– a significant finding in the decades-long search for life and for possible human use on future trips to the red planet.
The water flow evidence was spotted by researchers from Georgia Tech employing NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) – a 4,800lb spacecraft that has been taking pictures and measurements of Mars since 2006. In this case, using an imaging spectrometer researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious dark streaks are seen on the red planet in dozens of locations.
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“These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time, and they darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, but fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times,” NASA stated.
NASA said that these downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been thought in the past to be related to liquid water. The origin of water forming the RSL is not understood, however, the researchers said.
The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. It’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening, NASA stated.
“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 super briny -- is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”
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Grunsfeld added the water find was a good omen for the likelihood for life on Mars but much more scientific research needs to be done to reach that major conclusion.
The dark streaks are typically in very tough locations to reach for a rover so it is unlikely that one of the current rovers on the planet -- Curiosity for one – could be sent to further examine the dark streaks.
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NASA researchers did say that now that it knows what it is looking for it could direct instruments on other Mars landers or orbiters to try and look further at the dark streaks.
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