During a press conference today, NASA scientists confirmed a long held suspicion. There is water on Mars. Lujendra Ojha, Mary Beth Wilhelm, and Alfred McEwen presented findings they have recently published in a paper for the European Planetary Science Congress, an organization with a name that sounds way cooler than its boring academic purpose.
In the paper they highlight their findings from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, one of our many eyes on the planet. Thanks to the fact that we have more cameras pointed at Mars than a contestant on Big Brother, the three scientists were able to determine that the seasonal dark streaks on the Martian surface are the result of briny water periodically flowing across the planet’s surface. These dark streaks were spotted back in 2011, and there has since been several spectral and other analysis conducted to confirm that they are in fact water.
This is a huge announcement. Mars has water. We have always suspected as much, but to finally confirm that there is water, and not just frozen, but periodically moving water on the surface of another planet. This opens up new possibilities for discovering life, for future colonization, and maybe even distant future terraforming. According to the paper there is enough water that puddles may form during the Martian night.
There are still some questions left to answer. Where is the water coming from? Where is it going? Is this just an elaborate viral marketing campaign by Ridley Scott to promote The Martian, which opens in theaters this weekend? Only time and Matt Damon will be able to tell.
Scientists believe that in the past Mars had an ocean, similar to the Atlantic. 87% of the water was lost to space, which seems like such a waste, but the rest was captured under ice caps and in the Martian soil. These periodic water flows are called the recurring slope linae, -personally, we would have called them the J’onn J’onzz Memorial Springs, but that’s just us. They are created during the summer season, but whether they originate from subsurface ice, or from salts attracting water from the atmosphere or even bubbling aquifers, we do not yet know.
Science is a lot like watching Lost. Each answer just leads to more questions, and then you find out we were dead all alone, or time travelers, or something. Quite frankly we stopped paying attention to that show, but we will continue to pay attention for more news from the Red Planet, because we love science and Matt Damon.