We can't say for sure that Mars harbors all the necessary ingredients to support life, but a new landmark finding strengthens the case that flowing, liquid Martian water could sustain life on the red planet and perhaps one day, us too.
It's not quite the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake, but it is the confirmation Lujendra Ojha has been looking for the past few years -- that there is flowing, briny water on or near the surface of Mars. Ojha is the Georgia Tech graduate student who first helped spot so-called "recurring slope lineae" (RSL) when he was just an undergrad. RSL are seasonal dark, finger-shaped markings on Martian slopes that look an awful lot like liquid flowing downhill to create wet sand or soil.
"This is the smoking gun," Ojha told CNET. "This is as good as we're going to get with the current technology."
That technology is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has been circling and surveying the planet for nearly a decade. Ojha was part of the team that originally spotted RSL in MRO photos back in 2011. Now, he's the lead author on a paper published online Monday in Nature Geoscience that lays out a new spectral analysis of MRO data and finds evidence of hydrated salts in those dark, wet-looking lines on Mars.
"What we're observing here is the spectroscopic signature of perchlorates that are hydrated by water," he explained to me via phone from France Sunday. "These perchlorate salts have salt crystals that have molecules of water in them."
Spying these salts strongly suggests the mystery dark lines on Mars really are as wet as they look, according to Ojha and his co-authors.
We see hydrated salts occur naturally here on Earth. One well-known example derives its name from an English spring where compounds from local rock and soil dissolve in ground water, float around for a bit, then bind together to create salt molecules that hydrate with the water's molecules. Boil down that water and what remains is known as Epsom salt.
The paper draws a comparison between the apparently wet lines on Mars and Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, where similar salts offer the desert's "only known refuge for active microbial communities and halophylic prokaryotes."
Ojha cautions that this doesn't mean the briny waters that appear to be flowing on Mars are teeming with microscopic life, because they may just be too intermittent to support anything.
"But what we're saying is that compared to most of Mars in the present day climate, these places (where RSL have been spotted) are probably more habitable than most of the rest of the planet, which is completely bone dry."
There's also the question of what the RSL look like at different times of the Martian day. As Ojha explains it, all the MRO's observations of the lines have been taken at mid-afternoon. He suggests that different technology might allow scientists to see what they look like at cooler times of day.
"We might actually be able to see the spectroscopic signature of liquid water," he told me. "But this result is unambiguous that liquid water does play a big, big, big role in the formation of RSL on Mars."
And then there's the other big question many of my fellow sci-fi freaks are surely asking themselves already -- what does this mean for the potential of a future human colony on Mars?
"How is this resource, this liquid water on the surface going to help humanity in the long run?" Ojha wondered aloud rhetorically when we spoke. "One century's magic is another century's science. We're saying that there is water and it could probably be used as a resource for the future of humanity."
read more: http://www.cnet.com/news/water-on-mars- ... ed-planet/
source: theguardian.comNasa scientists find evidence of flowing water on Mars
Researchers say discovery of stains from summertime flows down cliffs and crater walls increases chance of finding life on red planet
Liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months on Mars, according to researchers who say the discovery raises the chances of being home to some form of life.
The trickles leave long, dark stains on the Martian terrain that can reach hundreds of metres downhill in the warmer months, before they dry up in the autumn as surface temperatures drop.
Images taken from the Mars orbit show cliffs, and the steep walls of valleys and craters, streaked with summertime flows that in the most active spots combine to form intricate fan-like patterns.
Scientists are unsure where the water comes from, but it may rise up from underground ice or salty aquifers, or condense out of the thin Martian atmosphere.
“There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars,” Michael Meyer, the lead scientist on Nasa’s Mars exploration programme, told the Guardian. “Because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today.”
The water flows could point Nasa and other space agencies towards the most promising sites to find life on Mars, and to landing spots for future human missions where water can be collected from a natural supply.
Some of the earliest missions to Mars revealed a planet with a watery past. Pictures beamed back to Earth in the 1970s showed a surface crossed by dried-up rivers and plains once submerged beneath vast ancient lakes. Earlier this year, Nasa unveiled evidence of an ocean that might have covered half of the planet’s northern hemisphere in the distant past.
But occasionally, Mars probes have found hints that the planet might still be wet. Nearly a decade ago, Nasa’s Mars Global Surveyor took pictures of what appeared to be water bursting through a gully wall and flowing around boulders and other rocky debris. In 2011, the high-resolution camera on 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.
Researchers have now turned to another instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to analyse the chemistry of the mysterious RSL flows. Lujendra Ojha, of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his colleagues used a spectrometer on the MRO to look at infrared light reflected off steep rocky walls when the dark streaks had just begun to appear, and when they had grown to full length at the end of the Martian summer.
Writing in the journal Nature Geosciences, the team describes how it found infra-red signatures for hydrated salts when the dark flows were present, but none before they had grown. The hydrated salts – a mix of chlorates and percholorates – are a smoking gun for the presence of water at all four sites inspected: the Hale, Palikir and Horowitz craters, and a large canyon called Coprates Chasma.
“These may be the best places to search for extant life near the surface of Mars,” said Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the University of Arizona and senior author on the study. “While it would be very important to find evidence of ancient life, it would be difficult to understand the biology. Current life would be much more informative.”
The flows only appear when the surface of Mars rises above -23C. The water can run in such frigid conditions because the salts lower the freezing point of water, keeping it liquid far below 0C.
“The mystery has been, what is permitting this flow? Presumably water, but until now, there has been no spectral signature,” Meyer said. “From this, we conclude that the RSL are generated by water interacting with percholorates, forming a brine that flows downhill.”
John Bridges, a professor of planetary science at the University of Leicester, said the study was fascinating, but might throw up some fresh concerns for space agencies. The flows could be used to find water sources on Mars, making them prime spots to hunt for life, and to land future human missions. But agencies were required to do their utmost to avoid contaminating other planets with microbes from Earth, making wet areas the most difficult to visit. “This will give them lots to think about,” he said.
For now, researchers are focused on learning where the water comes from. Porous rocks under the Martian surface might hold frozen water that melts in the summer months and seeps up to the surface.
Another possibility is that highly concentrated saline aquifers are dotted around beneath the surface, not as pools of water, but as saturated volumes of gritty rock. These could cause flows in some areas, but cannot easily explain water seeping down from the top of crater walls.
A third possibility, and one favoured by McEwen, is that salts on the Martian surface absorb water from the atmosphere until they have enough to run downhill. The process, known as deliquescence, is seen in the Atacama desert, where the resulting damp patches are the only known place for microbes to live.
“It’s a fascinating piece of work,” Bridges said. “Our view of Mars is changing, and we’ll be discussing this for a long time to come.”
Actually, the Martian water is freaking salty (that's the reason why it doesn't start freezing when it's -23*C); so perhaps it's perfect for cooking noodles or pastaChun wrote:Is it drinking water? I'm thristy. The water in my shower is very little at the moment and now I know why. Mars took some of it.
Humans. Extinguishing life on our home planet, but bringing it to our sister planets.Scientists have found evidence of "thin, wet layers of wet soil" of the surface of Mars, leading one to say he thinks it is "very likely" microbes are living under the surface.
Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, a member of the team announcing the discovery today, said he has thought for some time that the chance of life under the surface of Mars is "very high." These discoveries reinforce that belief, McEwen said.
"Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water - albeit briny - is flowing today on the surface of Mars."
"It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface ...," agreed Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future."
Scientists used an imaging spectrometer on the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to find evidence of "hydrated minerals" on Martian slopes where dark streaks have been seen. Those streaks are now thought to be trails were the briny mixture has flowed. The surface water would be much saltier than Earth's oceans, McEwen said, and there is evidence for a lot of it across the surface of the planet, albeit spread very thinly.
NASA administrators called the news "tremendously exciting," because water not only signals possible life on the planet, it means an easier time for visiting astronauts. Underground aquifers could not only supply astronauts water, they could supply oxygen. Those are also the components of chemical rocket fuel.
Grunsfeld also made another observation about the effect of human exploration on Mars. The robot rovers sent there over the years are believed to have carried Earth microbes despite efforts to sterilize them. "We know there is life on Mars, because we put it there," Grunsfeld said.
sourceTen days after NASA declared liquid water was found on Mars, the US space agency announced the discovery of ice and a beautiful blue sky on Pluto. The findings encourage the possibility of extraterrestrial life on the dwarf-planet.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to a NASA spokesman, "New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons."
The theory of a liquid sea existing beneath Pluto's surface is gaining momentum since the confirmation of water ice on its surface.
A deep crack running from a crater on the dwarf-planet was highlighted in images NASA beamed back in July. Surprisingly, the water ice was found in the very same crack of the planet. This crater, that appears to have a peak and a letter C shaped in it, is now informally named Elliot Crater, while the faults running away from it are called Virgil Fossa.
A new image was released recently showing a 280-miles-across section where the water ice was discovered. A NASA spokesman stated, "The strongest signatures of water ice occur along Virgil Fossa, just west of Elliot Crater on the left side of the insert image, and also in Viking Terra near the top of the frame.
"A major outcrop also occurs in Bare Montes towards the right of the image, along with numerous much smaller outcrops, mostly associated with impact craters and valleys between mountains."
According to Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) team member, Jason Cook, "Large expanses of Pluto don't show exposed water ice because it's apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet."
He continued, saying, "Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into."
What drew attention from the New Horizons team was the way the haze particles scattered blue light. NASA New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, from SwRI, stated, "Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It is gorgeous."
According to SwRI's science team researcher Carly Howett, "That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles."
She continued, "A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger-but still relatively small-soot-like particles we call tholins."
sourceNew Horizons finds water ice on Pluto: the scene is approximately 280 miles (450 km) across. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.