Efforts to trace life on Mars have always focused on studies on water sources in the past. Initial studies indicated that most of the water found on the Red Planet exists in the form of ice. This ice can be seen from the North Polar ice cap. The ice also exists at Mars’ South Pole and in the shallow areas of the subsurface. The ice at the South Pole, however, exists below the ice cap. The studies also showed that small traces of water occur as vapor in the planet’s atmosphere. However, recent findings by NASA suggest that water in liquid form occasionally flows on the red planet. These results show that water in liquid form flows down gorges and the walls of craters. This flow happens during the months when there is summer on Mars. Researchers say that this discovery has increased hopes of finding at least some form of life on the planet.
What were the details contained in NASA’s findings?
NASA arrived at the present findings following an analysis of images obtained from its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). From its pictures, scientists were able to detect signs of hydrated minerals present on the slopes where mysterious lines are spotted. Studies show that these streaks, which are dark in color, seem to recede and then flow in a given period. During the seasons when it is warm, (when temperatures are typically above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit) the streaks become dark and flow through the steep slopes. When temperatures cool, the streaks fade.
The downhill flows have often been thought to be associated with liquid water. To corroborate the finding, there has been a recent discovery of hydrated salts along these slopes. Scientists say that the dark color seen during the downhill flows and the hydrated salts have a close relationship. Researchers say that the salts lower the freezing point of the flowing liquid. The freezing happens in the same way as when salt poured on roads in our planet causes the rapid melting of ice and snow. With the melting caused by the hydrated salts, scientists say that it results in a subsurface flow that is shallow. During the flow, water comes to the surface, and this may be the reason of the darkening.
Discovery of Salts
Lujendra Ojha from Georgia Tech in Atlanta was a lead author of the report published by Nature Geoscience. The report addresses the findings by NASA. Commenting on the report, Lujendra observes that this team discovered the appearance of hydrated salts “only when the seasonal features were widest.” His team, therefore, opined that the hydration is either caused by the dark streaks on their own or, that there is a process leading to their formation. It is this process which causes the hydration. However, the discovery of hydrated salts in both cases leads to the belief that water has a pivotal role in the formation of the streaks.
There is no doubt that NASA’s missions to Mars have recorded many breakthroughs. In this latest discovery, the space agency says that it worked for many years and sent several spacecraft. The discovery of liquid water flowing on Mars is surely a huge stride made as scientists try to resolve another mystery; that of whether any form of life exists on the red planet.