by Nicholas Stehle
September 28, 2015
If you guessed that NASA’s big announcement about Mars would center around the discovery of liquid water, you were correct. Not only is there water on the surface of Mars, but it flows regularly during the summer months.
It is not, perhaps, on as grand a scale as Percival Lowell once hoped. But it is a revolution nonetheless.
“Liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months on Mars, according to researchers who say the discovery raises the chances of being home to some form of life”, according to The Guardian.
The water melts at temperatures well-below freezing because it is highly saline. Salts prevent water from freezing at zero degrees celsius. Instead, the briny Martian waters run at temperatures as low as -23C.
The resulting one to ten meter-wide stains on the surface of the planet may reach hundreds of meters in length as they run downhill before drying up during the harsh, cold Martian winter.
The Guardian reports that “Images taken from the Mars orbit show cliffs, and the steep walls of valleys and craters, streaked with summertime flows that in the most active spots combine to form intricate fan-like patterns.”
Scientists regard these wet areas as prime targets in the search for microscopic extraterrestrial life. The water flows would also be prime areas for human exploration. However, scientists want to make sure they don’t contaminate the area with microbes from Earth.
NASA remains unsure as to where the water comes from, though they say it might be from underground sources, or might be condensing out of the ultra-thin Martian atmosphere. A third option is that the water could be absorbed by salts in the soil until enough moisture is present for it to run downhill. This phenomena has been observed on Earth in the Atacama desert.
Regardless, the discovery of water is good news for astronauts who will attempt to live and work on the Red Planet. Water is essential for human life, and any human settlement would need to be relatively close to a water source. That, combined with incredible advancements in propulsion technology that we’ve previously reported, could make a multiplanetary civilization a reality, and the next several decades among the most signifiant in all of human history.