NASA confirms liquid water on Mars, search for life begins

28 Sep 2015

The dark streaks observed on Hale's crater shows signs of water. Image via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ University of Arizona

After much speculation, NASA has confirmed that the surface of Mars does indeed have liquid water running on it, which potentially brings new hope for the discovery of Martian life.

It seems rather timely given the upcoming release of The Martian film that this new discovery suggests that Matt Damon might not be the only living creature on the Martian surface, as scientifically unproven as that yet is.

Earlier this morning Irish time, NASA began prepping for the major announcement, which appeared to be the space agency’s worst kept secret as one of those scheduled to speak at the press briefing was Lujendra Ojha who had previously suggested that liquid water flowed on Mars.

According to The Guardian, the liquid water was discovered to be running down the ridges of canyons and crater walls during the planet’s summer months, with it having left visible streaks down their slopes.

However, the actual origin of the water remains a mystery, with some suggestions being that it is originating from vast underground salty aquifers, Martian ice or even condensation from the planet’s thin atmosphere.

Water on Mars 2

Again, dark streaks indicating signs of liquid water. Image via NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory/University of Arizona

The real search for life on Mars begins now

While at the time of writing the actual announcement has yet to take place, the findings of the research published on Nature Geosciences have shown that infrared signals indicate there are hydrated salts in the flows.

At all of the four inspected sites, signs of a mix of chlorates and percholates were found, which is in effect a ‘smoking gun’ for evidence of water.

Speaking of the findings, one of the senior researchers involved in the study, Alfred McEwen, said: “These may be the best places to search for extant life near the surface of Mars. 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 conditions needed for flowing Martian water are quite specific as it only appears when surface temperature is above -23C, with it able to flow because the saline nature of the water lowers its freezing point.

Summing up the discovery and what the future for life on Mars may be due to these findings, NASA’s lead scientist for its Mars exploration mission, Michael Meyer, said: “There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars. Because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment [there] today.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic