Earlier today, in a historic moment NASA revealed it has evidence of seasonal water flows on Mars.
Researchers working with NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected signatures of hydrated minerals (salts) on slopes where mysterious streaks were previously noticed on Mars. These streaks darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, when temperatures are above minus 23° Celsius, and fade in the cooler seasons.
The hydrated salts play a role in lowering the freezing point of a liquid brine, similarly to salt on roads which causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly.
Mars is not the dry, arid planet we thought of in the past.
Dr Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director, NASA
As I noted yesterday, a credible water theory was first put forward by a team in 2011. The then 21 years old Lujendra Ojha co-authored a study published in the journal Science, suggesting the occurrence of liquid salt water during the warmer seasons on Mars. Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010.
The scientists involved in the research published a paper in Nature Geoscience today, detailing the results of their finding: ‘Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars.’
We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks.
Lujendra Ojha, Georgia Institute of Technology
The finding is particularly significant for those who are hoping to find life on Mars. That search will no doubt focus now on the areas of these flows, to confirm whether they support life.
The NASA news conference confirming the existence of water on Mars: