The search for life beyond Earth may have come a little closer after pictures of the Red Planet revealed evidence of water stains flowing down vast cliff edges during warmer periods of the year.
“This discovery has changed our perception of Mars as a dry, desolate planet forever”
The source of the water flow remains a mystery but ideas include underground ice rising to the surface, underground rivers or condensation from the thick atmosphere. This discovery has changed our perception of Mars as a dry, desolate planet forever and offers two exciting possibilities: the prospect of finding extra terrestrial life much closer to Earth than previously hoped and the potential to send humans to Mars and land them near the newly discovered water source.
“They discovered hydrated salts: an excellent indicator of flowing water”
After receiving photographic evidence of water from NASA’s Mars Renaissance Orbiter, the team used other equipment on the satellite to analyse the chemical composition of the site. They discovered hydrated salts which are left when seas evaporate and are an excellent indicator of flowing water. The salts lower the freezing point allowing water to flow across the surface at temperatures down to -23oC.
NASA is keen to send the Curiosity Rover over to the site to investigate. However, the rover was sent up without being fully cleaned to rid it of bacteria. For that reason, it is forbidden from entering areas which contain liquid water. Any bacteria on the rover could enter the water and thrive, ruining the untouched surface. Given this new discovery, the rule is now “up for debate” but should enthusiastic scientists be beaten down by the rule makers, the ExoMars Rover will arrive on the surface in 2018, fully sterile and ready to investigate this oasis in the sky.
Image from NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre via Flickr