NASA Discovers Liquid Water On Mars: Could This Mean ET Life, Too?

Monday, following a weekend in which NASA kept the public waited impatiently for their big announcement, NASA held a press conference to confirm the discovery of liquid water on Mars. The existence of liquid water on the Red Planet has long been speculated by NASA and the agency’s legion of scientists. Today was the first confirmation by NASA that liquid water, a vital component of life as we know it, had been discovered by NASA Mars.

NASA Scientists of all flavors have been diligently searching for life on other worlds since NASA space exploration began. In lieu of life itself, as we know it, NASA scientists have searched for the essential building blocks. Liquid water has long been considered one of the most fundamental of all of the necessities for the existence of life by NASA; at least life as we understand it.

During Monday’s announcement, NASA went into detail about how the agency confirmed its discovery of liquid water on Mars, CNN reports. According to NASA officials, the newly-discovered water is very briny. It’s existence was confirmed by the NASA probe the Mars Reconnaissance Rover. Using its imager, the NASA Rover was able to determine (through light-wave analysis) that dark flows long-observed by NASA were, in fact, the water scientists working with NASA believed them to be.

 NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is worked on by scientists at the Kennedy Space Center July 20, 2005 in Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to August 2005 launch. [Photo: Matt Stroshane/Getty Images]
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is worked on by scientists at the Kennedy Space Center July 20, 2005 in Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to August 2005 launch. [Photo: Matt Stroshane/Getty Images]
This isn’t the first water NASA has discovered on the martian surface;NASA has long known that frozen water exists in caps on Mars’ poles. Liquid water, though, is a game-changer when it comes to the potential to harbor life. While NASA scientists have long hoped to find life, even bacterial life, on the Red Planet, most believed that all NASA would ever find were remnants of ancient, long-extinct lifeforms. Today’s NASA announcement changes the expectation in a radical way. At least according to Alfred McEwen, who’s in charge of NASA’s HiRISE high-resolution camera, located on board the NASA Mars orbiter.

“It’s very likely, I think, that there’s life somewhere in the crust of Mars, microbes.”

In this graphi provided by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, dark streaks on the sides of Hale Crater are believed to be formed by cyclical flow of water on the current surface of Mars. These features are called "recurring slope lineae" or RSL.[(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona via Getty Images]
In this graphi provided by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, dark streaks on the sides of Hale Crater are believed to be formed by cyclical flow of water on the current surface of Mars. These features are called “recurring slope lineae” or RSL.[(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona via Getty Images]
The water-flow detected by NASA on the surface of the long-studied surface of the Red Planet is presumed to by cyclical/seasonal, leaving behind the salty surface features illustrated in the above image. The NASA study into the formations indicated that the RSL absorb light at wavelengths related to specific chemicals that pull water from Mars’ atmosphere in a process similar, according to NASA, to precipitation here on Earth. On Mars, this process is known by NASA as “deliquescence.”

The RSL streaks announced by NASA Monday were initially discovered by an undergraduate, Lujendra Ojha, from the U of A in 2010. The chemicals that contribute to the recurring slope lineae are believed by NASA to allow water to remain in a liquid state in the harsh surface climate of the Red Planet, rather than boiling off or freezing. According to NASA, Mars ranges in temperature from -207 F to 80 F.

Wired reports that Ojah, who is now a scientist at Georgia Tech, and his team, spent many summers watching the RSL slowly form, expanding and staining the surface of Mars like “rolling gently down a cheek.” The scientist, who worked with NASA, and whose findings were published in a Nature Geoscience paper Monday, backs up his observations with what he calls “smoking gun validation” that the formations were caused by the flow of liquid water. This despite no actual liquid water being directly observed by NASA on Mars’s surface.

Not surprisingly, following Monday’s much-hyped NASA announcement, the world hit social media in droves. The intrigued masses couldn’t help but discuss what this discovery could mean for future NASA searches for extraterrestrial life. With the NASA scientist who operates the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Rover stating publicly that he believes at least microbial life to be “very likely,” everyone on the internet seemed to have an opinion.

While many apparently had a tongue-in-cheek response to today’s NASA announcement, it’s arguably one of the biggest to come out of NASA in the agency’s history.

[Photo Courtesy: Wim McNamee/Getty Images]

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