Curiosity Finds First Evidence that There Is Currently Liquid Water on Mars

Monday, 13 April 2015 - 1:08PM
NASA
Astrobiology
Mars
Monday, 13 April 2015 - 1:08PM
Curiosity Finds First Evidence that There Is Currently Liquid Water on Mars
We may be one step closer to finding life on Mars, as NASA's Curiosity rover has just found evidence of extant liquid water just below the Red Planet's surface.

"The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost," study co-author Andrew Coates told The Guardian. "It's the first time we've had evidence of liquid water there now."

Astrobiologists had already confirmed that Mars was once host to a sea of liquid water as large as the Arctic ocean, and that it currently has frozen water glaciers that could cover the planet with a meter of water. But until now, common wisdom in the scientific community has dictated that the atmospheric pressure is too low for liquid water to persist on the Red Planet; water molecules are rapidly compressed from gas to solid without becoming liquid as an intermediate step.

Now, Curiosity has detected a type of salt called perchlorates, which lower the freezing point of liquid water. Perchlorates have the ability to absorb water vapor from the atmosphere and turn it into a liquid brine. 

"These can decrease the freezing point of water by more than 70 degrees," study author Morten Bo Madsen told The Washington Post. "And they attract water quite violently. This can result in salty water moving up and down the surface."

The new study analyzes temperature and humidity data on Mars taken by Curiosity's weather-monitoring equipment, which shows that during certain times of day during the winter and spring, both factors would be calibrated to allow for liquid water to exist on Mars. The researchers believe that the water seeps down into the porous soil and lies just below the planet's surface.

This is groundbreaking news, as the presence of liquid water is generally cited as the most important factor for a planet's ability to house extraterrestrial life. But it doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be finding Martians anytime soon, as Mars's environment is still hostile to life for other reasons. "There are organisms on Earth, halophiles, that can survive in salty environments, but if it's also very cold and very dry that's a problem," said Madsen. "The radiation on Mars nails it – that environment is very hostile."
Science
Space
NASA
Astrobiology
Mars

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