NASA scientists announced Monday they believe they have strong evidence there is liquid water – as opposed to ice – on Mars. This is the first hard evidence there might actually be life on the red planet, though the life would probably be microbial.
“It suggests 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, as reported in an Associated Press article.
In 2008 NASA scientists determined there was ice on the planet, which is very cold. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has produced photos that appear to show what the scientists believe are streams going down mountainsides. It may be little more than wet ground, and there is no evidence of standing water, but it is still the first time scientists have said water exists there in liquid form. The streams appear to be about 12 feet wide and 300 feet long, and seem to be seasonal.
The water is believed to be heavy in salt and other chemicals, which could explain how water could exist where the average temperature is minus 85 Fahrenheit. Minus 10 in summer is as warm as it gets, scientists believe. The heavy salt content could help melt the ice.
NASA scientists are hoping to send a person to Mars in the 2030’s, and if water exists there, it could help in that mission. Water could be used by an astronaut for drinking and for creating oxygen.
The way to determine if there is any kind of life there is to collect rocks and soil. Now that orbiters and space ships have made plenty of trips there and sent back photographs, collecting rocks is the next logical step. They are hoping to do this around 2020, by sending a craft that can land, collect materials, and take off again.
Scientists are still not sure it is water, though it appears to be. The water could be melting ice, or water from underground. The evidence they have is dark streaks that go own a mountainside.
In a New York Times article, scientists said Mars once had water – such as lakes, rivers and an ocean – but that was a few billion years ago. What happened to those bodies of water remains a mystery.
The photographs do show residue of hydrated salts, which can only be made by flowing water, scientists said, adding that these traces do not appear to be old at all.