Scientist say the dark,100 meter-long streaks, called recurring slope lineae, flowing downhill on Mars may have been formed by flowing water. The blue color seen above the dark streaks is unlikely to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an infrared false color image on a digital terrain model of the same site. Credit:NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
NASA scientists have found evidence of liquid water on the surface of the Red Planet.
The space agency announced today that after years of investigation, they have determined that water intermittently seeps from below ground and on to the Martian surface. The water appears to ebb and flow depending on the season and the weather.
NASA scientists had previously detected crystalized water in the Martian soil and traces of large ancient water flows millions of years old, but this is the first time they have found evidence of water flowing on present-day Mars.
"We're starting to put together a much more interesting picture of what Mars is really like," said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, at a press conference. "Our instruments today are showing us a much more dynamic and complex planet, and that is very exciting."
Discovering the presence of water on Mars is a big step for scientists, but it also leads to other questions. Since water is a key element needed for life as we know it, could life have ever existed on Mars? And if it did, could life on Mars still exist, or could evidence of that ancient life be found?
Since NASA plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, could their habitat be built near one of the areas with water so astronauts could use it for drinking and to grow crops?
"When you look at Earth, water is a central ingredient," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "Everywhere you go, there is liquid water, even if it's deep in the Earth. We haven't been able to answer the question, does life extend beyond Earth? But now we have a much better idea of where to look … and now we can thoroughly look for life and make that positive identification."
The water seeping to the surface of Mars, scientists say, is extremely briny. It's much saltier than the Earth's oceans but that doesn't mean it can't be used by future human explorers.
"Our results may point to more habitable conditions on the surface of Mars than we had once thought," said Mary Beth Wilhelm, an astrobiology Ph.D candidate and a civil servant with NASA's Ames Research Center. "Water may be an important resource for future explorers and may decrease the cost and increase the activity of humans on the planet."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.