By now, you’ve definitely heard, there’s brine on Mars. Salty, salty, brine. Yes! They found water on Mars (Mars has liquid water). But like, didn’t we already find water on Mars? Haven’t we been here before? Yeah, we did.
Literally two years ago almost to the DAY, NASA announced water was found in experiments done by the SAM — a portable robotic laboratory living in the belly of MSL Curiosity. Well, back in 2013, we knew there was enough water on Mars to cover the whole planet to a depth of 35 meters, but as far as scientists knew, the water was trapped in quote “ice caps, thick sequences of ice-rich layers, and mantles of snow.” In fact, the Wikipedia page at the end of the year in 2013 uses the Journal Icarus as a source and says quote “Some liquid water may occur transiently on the Martian surface today but only under certain conditions.” The journal says their experiments indicate there could be water in seasonal melts on Martian slopes. Well GUESS WHAT?
The newest discovery says just that! In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, researchers announced the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found signs that water may flow intermittently on present day Mars, showing, yet again, that though science moves slowly, it bends toward the truth. The water in question is very salty water…
Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,
said John Grunsfeld.
This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.
technically, it’s hydrated perchlorate. Water mixed with high concentrations of salt has a lower freezing temperature than pure water, so it can still flow on the slopes of Mars even when temperatures are as low as minus 70°C (-94°F).
Whatever is flowing on Mars is hydrating the salt,
Lujendra Ojha says.
and we’re seeing that hydration in the spectral signature.
Salty water means there might be life in it, because pure water would freeze, killing any life present. Perchlorates have been known on Mars for years. Phoenix found some in 2007, and Curiosity in April 2015 found calcium perchlorates. Under the right conditions these perchlorates absorb water vapor from the air, and then FLOW.
But you shouldn’t picture rivers and streams for this water. Instead, as best as I can figure, it’s probably a denser sludgy water that appears in the warmer season and disappears in the colder.
The very salty water is still super cold and highly toxic to humans, it would damage the thyroid, but even so salted, it might not be toxic to everything.
NewScientist reminds readers in the Atacama desert, microbes can live on salts which absorb moisture from that, the driest atmosphere on Earth. And, according to a 2012 study, Mars may have had an ocean that could sustain bacteria 3.5 billion years ago (Oceanus Borealis) covering 38 percent of the planet.
In the intervening years, Mars’ low gravity and thin atmosphere allowed the water to slowly escape into space… leaving what we find today, but even still, water is a huge win for scientists, and it’s incredible that we can find it in liquid form on our neighbor planet.
The question now, is where this water is coming from?
That’s the big mystery right now,
We have ideas, though: Maybe the ice inside Mars is melting and percolating out, or maybe a subterranean network of aquifers is feeding water to the surface.
Right now, NASA’s favorite explanation is deliquescence. Mars can reach 100 percent atmospheric humidity on winter nights, so some believe the perchlorates absorb water from the humid Martian air, others think it might come from underground aquifers.
Scientists can’t be sure without more data. Finding water increases the chances even more of finding evidence of life off of our planet. Curiosity is only 50 kilometers from the site where water was found, but it can’t go there, why?
Because of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (one of my favorites) which has a sort of Microbial Prime Directive. Curiosity wasn’t sterilized enough to go near water on another planet where any stowaway Earth-life could take a foothold and contaminate Mars!
For now, we know the water is there, and we know the possible life implications that brings with it… but we can’t do much about it until either a super-sterile mission is sent, or humans show up and can see it with their own eyes.
It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,
said Michael Meyer.
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.”