NASA’s Curiosity piqued after discovery of liquid water beneath Mars surface

14 Apr 2015

Image via James Steidl/Shutterstock

For the first time, scientists have been able to record the existence of liquid water beneath the surface of Mars thanks to the Curiosity rover, but say it offers no assurance of life still existing on the planet.

Until now, the existence of water on Mars was believed to be only in the form of permafrost due to the harsh and inhospitable cold that exists on the red planet, but now a new paper published online suggests that the planet’s hostile terrain may actually help in the existence of liquid water.

According to the findings, this newly discovered liquid water exists in a heavily saline state, known commonly as brine, at a temperature in the region of -70 degrees Celsius because of the salt’s ability to expand the freezing point of water, also helped by the inclusion of calcium perchlorate into the mix.

The peak time for the formation of liquid water on Mars, The Guardian says, is on winter nights just before the sunrise when the temperature and humidity levels are perfect for the formation of this brine.

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover’s mast. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Too harsh for life

Temperatures on Mars fluctuate wildly throughout its day due to the lack of atmosphere similar to our own, with its peak heat reaching as high as 20 degrees Celsius at noon time, before plummeting to as low as -153 degrees Celsius at either of the planet’s poles.

But one of the researchers working with Curiosity who discovered the existence of liquid water, Morten Bo Madsen, a senior Mars scientist at the University of Copenhagen and a co-investigator on the Curiosity rover, dashed hopes that this discovery means an increased likelihood of discovering life.

“There are organisms on Earth, halophiles, that can survive in salty environments, but if it’s also very cold and very dry that’s a problem. The radiation on Mars nails it – that environment is very hostile,” he said.

Image of Mars exploration vehicle by James Steidl via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic