“Liquid water has been found on Mars”: the defining statement of Nasa’s press conference.
On September 28, 2015, Nasa revealed to the world that they have found examples of liquid water on the surface of the red planet. Nasa has noticed that during the warmer seasons in the planet, dark streaks would arise on steep valleys and cliffs,and they would disappear during the colder months.
Pictures from 2011 indicate that streams of water flowed down the side of crater walls, canyon sides, generally steep places, thus leaving behind a dark mark, similar to how water darkens the pavement on the sidewalk.They named these lines “recurring slope lineae” or RSL.
To confirm the streaks were a direct result of flowing water, Lujendra Ojha of Georgia Institute of Technology, was brought in. He and his crew used a spectrometer to observe infrared light reflecting off the cliffs before and after the RSL. The team noticed that hydrated salts were present with the RSL’s and none prior or after RSL formation. Along with the indication of liquid water, it is most likely very salty and briny.
Where this water is coming from, however, is still unknown. Some speculate that the water occurs from below the surface as ice, and as the surface warms, the water pours out. Others, like Alfred McEwen, planetary geologists and senior author on the study, believe that the water is coming from the atmosphere in a process known as deliquescence. The salts, McEwen believes, absorb liquid water from the atmosphere which would form these RSLs.
Despite all of this, the presence of water is nothing new for Mars. At the poles, there are ice caps. There is evidence of dried up river valleys and lakes throughout the surface of the red planet that indicate there was a presence of liquid water at some point in Mars’ history. Nasa even states at the press conference that Mars may have had a water cycle similar to Earth at some point. Yet, this announcement is the first indication of flowing water.
As this announcement unfolded, the possibility of life on Mars went from science fiction to plausible reality. At the conference, a spokesperson for Nasa stated that this discovery “is one of the reasons why, I feel, it is more imperative that we send astrobiologists and planetary scientists to explore the question, is there life on Mars?”
Nasa hopes that with all of the buzz this will receive that they will be able to put a man on Mars as late as the 2030’s to investigate Mars even further. While there are no current plans to visit any these areas with water anytime soon, Nasa is willing to discuss a detour for future rovers to RSL’s on the now not-so-dry, maybe-not-so-lifeless red planet.