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NASA Discovers “Streams” on Mars

NASA Discovers “Streams” on Mars
September 29
15:59 2015

Where there is water, there is life. And according to a statement issued by NASA on Monday, the theory that salt water flows on Mars during the summer has become a fact.

The photo above was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and supports the theory that water flows on Martian mountains during the summer. Observations show dark streaks on Mars’ surface that expand during the planet’s warmest months.

The MRO has been stationed in orbit around Mars since 2006. While scientists agree that Mars had lakes – maybe even an ocean – billions of years ago, the current surface is dry and dusty with the occasional patch of damp soil.

“Mars just got more interesting,” read NASA’s Twitter shortly before a news conference was held at the space agency’s headquarters in Washington. NASA referred to the results as “a major science finding.”

“This is tremendously exciting,” said James L. Green, director of the NASA Planetary Science Division. “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘does life exist beyond Earth?’ but following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 2.55.05 PMThe image at left, taken by the MRO in 2011, shows streaks cut into the Martian dust – supposedly by flowing water. Most of Mars is very cold, even during the summer. But salt lowers the freezing point of water and can melt ice. Plus, areas near the equator are believed to reach temperatures up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We had to come up with new techniques and novel ways to do analysis of the chemical signature,” said Lujendra Ojha, a grad student at Georgia Tech who figured out how to adjust instruments on the MRO to get a better “look” at the streaks.
With the new method, researchers identified signs of hydrated salt in four locations.

“It’s very definitive there is some sort of liquid water,” said Ojha. “There pretty much has to have been liquid water recently present to produce the hydrated salt,” agreed Alfred McEwen, a geology professor at the University of Arizona.

Scientists are still perplexed in regards to the source of the water. “There are two basic origins for the water: from above or from below,” said Dr. McEwen. Some researchers believe the water to be a result of melting ice; some think it’s an underground aquifer. Others suggest the “streams” are a buildup of water vapor from Mars’ thin atmosphere.

NASA astrobiologist Christopher P. McKay isn’t so hopeful about the presence of life on Mars. “The short answer for habitability is it means nothing,” he said, noting that for the water to remain in liquid form on Mars it would have to be so salty that nothing could possibly survive in it. He pointed out Antarctica’s Don Juan Pond, which stays in a liquid state despite subzero temperatures due to high concentrations of calcium chloride salt – yet it cannot support life.

As far as we know, liquid water is required for life. But further research is needed to discover whether or not the Red Planet is host to microscopic life.

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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