Liquid Water On Mars, NASA Confirms, Next Step Closer To Finding Martian Life

The philosophy of NASA in searching for extraterrestrial life has been simple: follow the water. In today’s announcement, NASA has confirmed that streaks shown on the slides below are, indeed, liquid water, able to flow in extreme saline (salty) conditions on the Martian soil, and therefore withstand the -63 to -123 degrees Celsius (-81.4 to -189 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures on the surface.

The finding is significant, as thousands of photos contain so-called Recurring Slope Lineae, or RSL, which means Mars has an active water cycle. While there is mystery where this water is coming from, geology on Earth suggests there are several possibilities. The water could be emanating from an internal heat source — much like magma flows from volcanoes, water could be flowing out of ventilation pipes. There could be underground rivers and streams under the surface of Mars which occasionally, like Hot Springs in Yellowstone Park, burst through and percolate through the sand, creating the familiar brown and black streaks seen all over Mars by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE snapshots.

An image combining orbital imagery with 3-D modeling shows flows that appear in spring and summer on a slope inside Mars' Newton crater. Sequences of observations recording the seasonal changes at this site and a few others with similar flows might be evidence of salty liquid water active on Mars today. Evidence for that possible interpretation is presented in a report by McEwen et al. in the Aug. 5, 2011, edition of Science.
Recurring slope lineae (RSL) are active flows on warm Martian slopes that might be caused by seeping water. One of the most active sites known on Mars is in the central peaks (uplifted mountains of deep bedrock) of Hale Crater.
This series of images shows warm-season features that might be evidence of salty liquid water active on Mars today. Evidence for that possible interpretation is presented in a report by McEwen et al. in the Aug. 5, 2011, edition of Science.
This series of images shows warm-season features that might be evidence of salty liquid water active on Mars today. Evidence for that possible interpretation is presented in a report by McEwen et al. in the Aug. 5, 2011, edition of Science.
Among the many discoveries by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter since the mission was launched on Aug. 12, 2005, are seasonal flows on some steep slopes, possibly shallow seeps of salty water. This July 21, 2015, image from the orbiter's HiRISE camera shows examples within Mars' Valles Marineris.

In all of the above pictures, seasonal changes have been observed and, at least since 2008, NASA has considered these streaks might be water. With overwhelming evidence, scientists are now confident that one puzzle of Mars — is there still flowing liquid on the surface of Mars? — has been answered, according to Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings, published September 28 by Nature Geoscience.

“When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water… Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”

So, what is the significance of this finding? First, water on Mars means that future astronauts have a source of liquid water, which means a reduction in supply cargo to the red planet. With a scheduled one-way trip to Mars in 2024, such news will boost the spirits of mission leaders who want success for the astronauts.

Second, water on Mars means there could be an internal ocean and, ultimately, existing life. If Mars were capable of supporting life, scientists would expand their definition of what constitutes conditions for life to form on a planet. If life can exist on Mars, the universe could be a potential Petri dish, teeming with (albeit likely single-cell) life. But life nonetheless.

Life in our Solar System?1.MARS:Microbes? 2.EUROPA (Jupiter moon): Ocean under ice 3. ENCELADUS (Saturn Moon) 4.TITAN http://t.co/KvDsMwCvaz

— The Harper Files (@RL_Harper) March 25, 2015

And if this is true, then how many more advanced civilizations like Earth could there be? The New Horizons probe has made fascinating discoveries about Pluto, finding its surface dynamic and with a possible internal ocean that could itself host life.

[Images by NASA / JPL / University of Arizona]