News / Science & Technology

NASA Finds Possible Signs of Flowing Water on Mars

An image combining orbital imagery with 3-D modeling shows flows that appear in spring and summer on a slope inside Mars' Newton crater
An image combining orbital imagery with 3-D modeling shows flows that appear in spring and summer on a slope inside Mars' Newton crater
TEXT SIZE - +

A NASA spacecraft that is orbiting Mars has revealed that liquid water might still flow on the Red Planet.  We have more about this new discovery as scientists continue to "follow the water" in an attempt to learn if Mars might be habitable.

Scientists say there is a possibility that there is flowing water on Mars during the planet's warmest months.

Philip Christensen, a geophysicist at Arizona State University, Tempe, focuses his attentions on Mars and Earth.  He spoke to reporters at NASA headquarters in Washington Thursday about a revelation that is exciting the science community.

"We know Mars has a lot of ice, but this is the first time we've seen the potential for liquid water.  It might be salty water, but it still could [be] still liquid, and I think that's the real key here," said Christensen. " It's not that Mars doesn't have a lot of ice, but liquid water - certainly to an organism - is very, very, very different than ice."

And what are the indications that there could be flowing water?  NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed dark, finger-like features that extend down some steep mountain slopes in the Martian middle latitudes during late spring and summer.  The features fade in winter, and they return the next Martian spring.

NASA scientists say the flows are not dark because they're wet, but they say there is a chance that a water flow could have changed the surface in such a way to darken the slopes' appearance.

But don't start daydreaming just yet about a summertime in the southern hemisphere of Mars, lolling by a salty Martian shoreline.  

Alfred McEwen is the principal investigator for the Mars orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment.  He is also the lead author of the new report about recurring flows.

"So we have this circumstantial evidence for water flowing on Mars," said McEwen. "We have no direct detection of water."  

And, McEwen cautioned, it might not be water as we know it on our watery blue planet.

"This very salty water can be very different from water in that it is higher in density and higher in viscosity, so it is more like a syrup maybe in how it flows," he said. "We really don't know how salty this water is from these observations, so this is speculation, but it could be rather different from pure water."  

Scientists believe water on Mars would be briny because past landers and rovers, as well as Martian meteorites, have shown that the planet's surface is salty.

Lisa Pratt is a biogeochemist at Indiana University, Bloomington, who studies the fate of complex organic molecules on the surface of Mars.  While it's hard to equate Martian territory to places on Earth, Pratt said Siberia is the most similar place where researchers have studied habitability and permafrost.    
Pratt compared the possible water on Mars to the contents of a plastic bottle of soda that's been in the freezer.

"You get a block of ice in the middle of it and then this very sugar-syrup around it where all the flavor and the goodies are," said Pratt. "That's because the water that freezes out is quite pure ice, and all of the other things - the sugars and the salts - are in the syrup.  We all know this from experience.  The whole thing doesn't freeze.  The ice freezes and then there's a remaining liquid brine in that plastic bottle."   

Pratt told reporters at NASA that the new discovery is eye-opening, and she said it will help scientists plan future missions to look for signs of life on present day Mars.

"The difficulty has been that Mars is simply too large a planet to keep an eye on every place at all times, and we've needed a way to really focus our instruments and think about the engineering decisions that need to be made for future landed missions or for future orbiting missions, and I really think we now have it," she said.

The new report about possible water flows on Mars was published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid