Findings almost confirms that liquid water flows on Mars

  • September 29, 2015
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Findings almost confirms that liquid water flows on Mars


New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows part of the time on Mars, scientists with the mission said.

Using an instrument on the satellite called an imaging spectrometer, researchers detected signatures of minerals associated with water on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet.

The darkish streaks seem to ebb and flow over time-darkening and appearing to flow down steep slopes in warm seasons, then fading in cooler seasons.

They appear in several places when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times, according to the researchers.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water-albeit briny-is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

The streaks, called recurring slope lineae, often have been viewed as possible signs of liquid water. The researchers propose that the salts detected would lower the freezing point of water, just as salt facilitates ice melting on roads here on Earth. Scientists say it's likely a shallow underground flow, with some water reaching the surface.

“We found the hydrated [water-containing] salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology, lead author of a report on the findings published Sept. 28 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks.”

The NASA satellite has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.

Its ability “to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are,” said Rich Zurek, project scientist for the orbiter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water. “When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” he said. “Now we know there's more to the story.”

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