NASA confirms evidence of water on Mars

For the first time, NASA has confirmed the existence of liquid water on the surface of Mars, thereby boosting hopes for life there.

NASA researchers using an imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter confirmed the watery flows by looking at light waves returned from seasonal dark streaks on the surface, long suspected to be associated with liquid water.

While the discovery doesn’t by itself offer evidence of life on Mars, either past or present, it does boost hopes that the harsh landscape still offers some refuge for microbes to cling to existence.

“The existence of liquid water, even if it is super salty briny water, gives the possibility that if there’s life on Mars, that we have a way to describe how it might survive,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.

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“This is tremendously exciting,” James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division, said during a news conference on Monday. “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.”

That represents a shift in tone for NASA, where officials have repeatedly played down the notion that the dusty and desolate landscape of Mars could be inhabited today.

It remains unclear where the water comes from. Theories include deliquescence, melting subsurface ice or even a liquid-water aquifer that feeds the process. Researchers have known for many years that Mars has water frozen at its poles, in its thin atmosphere, and, most recently, in tiny puddles that appear to form at night on the surface.

“We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ ” Green said. “But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, a great opportunity to be in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.”

– Spadman

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