There’s liquid water on Mars. Yes, right now.

Water flowing on Mars. Site: Hale crater, Mars. Dark brown: a hundred meters long & few meters wide streaks of hydrated salts. Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Water flowing on Mars. Dark brown: a few hundred meters long & few meters wide streaks of hydrated salts. Site: Hale crater, Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

There’s liquid water on Mars. Yes, right now. No, we don’t know where is coming from, though NASA has a few good ideas. No, we don’t know if there’s life in it, yet (an organic compound analyzer must be send to Mars to find that out).

NASA announced today, September, 28, 2015, that they have evidence that there is flowing liquid water on today’s Mars.

Evidence comes from the spectrometer that’s on-board the Mars Recognizance Orbiter, a spacecraft launched in 2005.

Conceptual image of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which, 10 years after its launch, brought us the news of flowing water on Mars, thanks to its spectrometer, one of the many instruments it has on-board. Credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste.

First, the scientists noticed long dark streaks, called recurring slope linae, that seem to appear and disappear seasonally: they appear during warm months, and disappear during cold months. Then, they used the spectrometer to record and analyze what those streaks are made of. The streaks represent salty water flowing downhill. The salts are essential because otherwise the water would not be in liquid form in the freezing temperatures of Mars (the higher the content of salt, the lower its freezing point; that’s why we salt the streets during winter).

The water can come from absorption from atmosphere (but Mars doesn’t have enough water vapor in the atmosphere, so that’s unlikely), from ice melting (but they found ice near equator, so that’s a no-no), or from an aquifer (but they found water flowing on top of peaks, so no aquifer there). The abstract presented at the European Planetary Science Congress say there may be all of the above.

As for life… we need to send some instrument there with an organic compound analyzer to take a closer look at that brine.

Reference: Ojha, L., Wilhelm, M. B., Murchie, S. L., McEwen, A. S., Wray, J. J., Hanley, J., Massé, M., & Chojnacki, M. (2015). Spectral Evidence for Hydrated Salts in Seasonal Brine Flows on Mars. European Planetary Science Congress 2015 Abstracts, Vol. 10, EPSC2015-838-1. EPSC Abstracts PDF | NASA announcement | Animation of Site of Seasonal Flows in Hale Crater, Mars

P.S. Generally, I try to stay away from the media-grabbers, i.e. those findings covered by everybody. But sometimes, something is just too good to miss. Even if it’s not neuroscience ;).

By Neuronicus, 28 September 2015