It seems the Red Planet has a little bit more in common with its blue neighbour than than her arid appearance first suggests, it’s confirmed today after NASA announced that liquid water has been detected on the surface of Mars for the first time.
Images from the space agency’s orbiting satellite, The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), appears to show dark streaks seen on the planet’s surface—salt deposits—which scientists are now confident can be tied to seasonal flows of liquid H2O.
‘Today, we’re revolutionising our understanding of the planet,’ said Jim Green, planetary science director at NASA, ‘Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past—under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.’
‘Something is hydrating these salts, and it appears to be these streaks that come and go with the seasons,’ Lujendra Ojha, a researcher from Georgia Tech who worked on the paper, added in a statement. ‘This means the water on Mars is briny, rather than pure. It makes sense because salts lower the freezing point of water.’
Scientists have known for a long time that frozen water is present at Mars’ poles, but the discovery of liquid water for the first time will also fuel further speculation about whether microbial life has ever existed on Mars, or even if it continues to exist to this day.
‘It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,’ said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. ‘It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.’
For future astronauts on Mars, or even colonisers, the identification of water supplies near the surface will also make the process of exploring our planetary neighbour that little bit more feasible, allowing for the possibility of such space settlers to ‘live off the land’.
‘I think all of the scientific discoveries we’re making on the surface of Mars…these observations are giving us a much better view that Mars has resources that are useful to future travels,’ concluded John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator. ‘I think all of the scientific discoveries we’re making on the surface of Mars… are giving us a much better view that Mars has resources that are useful to future travels.’