Water on Mars? Martian Life Next?

Mars just doesn’t seem to get out of the news these days. Following the mysterious disappearance of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor late last month and some spectacular 3D imagery of the Red Planet, NASA announced on Wednesday that it discovered what could be interpreted as evidence of water on the surface of Mars. Comparison of images captured by the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor over recent, several year time spans provides a strong suggestion of flowing water. The re-imaging of gullies (such as the one pictured above in a crater in the Centauri Montes region and another in Terra Sirenum) in search of evidence of flowing water shows the appearance of light-toned deposits in particular gully channels. These features were shown not to be a trivial result of lighting conditions. The light-toned deposits are thought to be the result after water has stopped flowing and that the flowing materials “were low-volume debris flows containing a mixture of sediment and a liquid that had the physical properties of liquid water”.

The most exciting aspect of this discovery is that pictorial evidence of flowing water in the recent past strengthens the potential for microbial life on Mars.Life sustaining water must be in the form of liquid water, not ice or water vapor, both of which are known to exist on Mars. The new findings emphasize the need for a deeper examination of the possibility of the existence of Martian life and could become one of the main goals of future Mars expeditions. Nevertheless, many questions remain, among them the nature of the light-toned deposits (frost?), whether they indicate the locations of aquifers (subsurface rocks saturated with water), and how flowing liquid water emerged in the first place; temperatures on Mars are so frigid that liquid water cannot persist for long on the surface.

More information and images on this exciting discovery from the NASA webpage.