Houston, we have water flow! NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has uncovered the strongest evidence to date that liquid water flows intermittently on Mars. Researchers observed traces of hydrated minerals on slopes that show streaks vaguely resembling paths carved out by the flow of water using the MRO’s imaging spectrometer.
“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,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”
The discovery of these hydrated salts leads scientists to believe that the streaks and dark features found on slopes across Mars are linked to liquid water. Hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of salt water, similar to how we use salt and brine on frozen roads to melt ice and snow down to water.
Researchers are positing that there is a shallow subsurface flow of water that trickles across the Red Planet’s surface, explaining the surface darkening and streaks, called recurring slope lineae (RSL), that the MRO uncovered. Signatures of hydrated salts appeared in various RSL locations where the features were darker and wider, as shown in the photo below.
“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” Lujendra Ojha, lead author of the report on these findings, said.
Those who may be scoffing at this new revelation with an “I’ve heard it before” mentality aren’t entirely wrong, though they are off base. Until now, whenever Mars and the discovery of water have been uttered in the same sentence, it’s normally been in reference to ancient traces of water long gone from the planet or frozen water beneath its dusty red surface. These findings reveal that water in liquid form is currently meandering its way across the planet.
And just like that, the novelty of sparkling water, vitamin water and coconut water has gone out the window now because nothing, absolutely nothing, can be cooler than Martian water.