The chances of anything coming from Mars are 1,000,000 to one, they said.
Well, those chances have been slashed considerably after NASA‘s most recent announcement, which is the discovery of liquid water on the surface of the Red Planet.
These streams and rivulets leave long, dark stains across the Martian surface, before they dry up in the Autumn as the surface temperature begins to decrease. Some of the most active sights are susceptible to producing intricate fan-like patterns, by combining with other streams.
The search for water on Mars can be traced back to the very earliest Mars missions. Pictures sent back to Earth in the 1970s gave us one of the first glimpses of the Martian terrain, which was crossed by dried-up rivers and plains, perhaps once submerged beneath lakes, which dried up millions of years ago.
In addition, NASA released evidence that an ocean might have once covered around half of the planet’s northern hemisphere. For years, probes have continued to photograph the surface of the planet in order to find evidence of water, with Nasa’s Mars Global Surveyor taking pictures of what appeared to be water bursting through a gully wall. In 2011, the Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured what looked like little streams flowing down crater walls from late spring to early autumn. Not wanting to assume too much, mission scientists named the flows “recurring slope lineae” or RSL.
The challenge now lies in finding the source of this water. There are a number of theories relating to this. One of the most common is that porous rocks underneath the surface could hold frozen water. This water would melt in the summer due to a high surface temperature, which then seeps up into the surface, to form these streams.
Another theory is that highly concentrated saline aquifers (rocks with a high salt content that can absorb water) are dotted around beneath the surface, as collectives of various rocks. These could cause flows in some areas, but they cannot easily explain water seeping down from the top of crater walls. As such, whilst there does exist a possibility of this being the cause, the probability is far lower than the previous hypothesis.
A third possibility is that the salt that exists on the Martian surface absorbs water from the atmosphere until there is enough to cause a downhill stream. This process, also known as deliquescence, can be observed in areas such as the Atacama desert, where these damp areas are the only possible places for microscopic life to live.
This discovery not only increases the possibility that Mars may have once sustained life, but also the viability of an extraterrestrial colonisation. If NASA are able to locate the sources of the water, and extrapolate it, it could make life on Mars a whole lot easier.
Here’s hoping that it doesn’t turn us all into zombies.