WASHINGTON (AA): Mars appears to have signs of liquid water on its surface during its summer months, boosting the chances of finding life on the red planet, NASA scientists announced Monday.
“Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars,” said Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Director. “Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past.”
The intermittent flows, formally called Recurring Slope Linae (RSL), are streams of salty water seen flowing down the planet’s surface as Mars warms seasonally. The water’s salt content is important, because without it the water would freeze in Mars’ exceptionally cold climate.
“These are dark streaks that form in late spring, grow through the summer, and then disappear by fall,” said Michael Meyer, the lead scientists for NASA’s Mars Exploration program.
Scientists discovered frozen water on Mars’ frigid poles in 2008, but for the past four years they have examined the dark steaks on the planet’s surface, finding them at previously unseen locations across latitudes.
“These observations have narrowed the constraints for how RSL might form, but there has been no evidence for water until now,” Meyer added.
It is unclear just how much water is flowing on Mars’ surface during the comparatively warmer summer months. But given that liquid water is so fundamental to life, the discovery could have major ramifications for the further search for life, in some form, on Mars.
“It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future,” said Meyer, in apparent reference to possible manned missions to the red planet.
Scientists are still unsure of the water’s source, but noted that it could be from underground aquifers, melting ice, vapor from the atmosphere, or some combination of these sources.