Water Discovered on Mars

On Saturday, November 26, NASA is scheduled to launch the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission featuring Curiosity, the largest and most advanced rover ever sent to the Red Planet. The Curiosity rover bristles with multiple cameras and instruments, including Goddard's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. By looking for evidence of water, carbon, and other important building blocks of life in the Martian soil and atmosphere, SAM will help discover whether Mars ever had the potential to support life. Curiosity will be delivered to Gale crater, a 96-mile-wide crater that contains a record of environmental changes in its sedimentary rock, in August 2012. ------ This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires laser pulses at a target and views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. The laser is actually in an invisible infrared wavelength, but is shown here as visible red light for purposes of illustration. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and designed and built Curiosity. More information about Curiosity is at Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech <b><a>NASA image use policy.</a></b> <b><a href="" rel="nofollow">NASA Goddard Space Flight Center</a></b> enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. <b>Follow us on <a href="" rel="nofollow">Twitter</a></b> <b>Like us on <a href="" rel="nofollow">Facebook</a></b> <b>Find us on <a href="" rel="nofollow">Instagram</a></b>

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.

Joanne Blunt

Image from NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre via Flickr

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