NASA says it may have discovered water on Mars, which could lead to traces of life being found on the red planet.
"NASA's Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a press conference.
NASA has announced recent discoveries from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which revealed possible flowing water on the planet during warm months. The pictures point to pictures which feature dark, finger shaped features extending down Martian slopes during late spring through summer. These slopes fade in the winter and return in the spring.
"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," observed Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona at Tucson. McEwen is part of a team that is working with the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE).
While the hypothesis is far from definite, researchers say it is better than most other explanations that have been proposed. Furthermore, it has a perfectly scientific explanation if the water is salty. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. An active flow could get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth's oceans. Pure water on the other hand freezes at the observed temperature.
Images of the supposed water shows that flows lengthen and darken on rocky equator-facing slopes from late spring to early fall. Taking the seasonality, latitude distribution and brightness into account, it is a volatile material. Because it's too hot for carbon-dioxide frost and too cold for pure water, NASA says this suggests salt water brines.
"It's a mystery now, but I think it's a solvable mystery with further observations and laboratory experiments," McEwen said.
This is the closest scientists have gotten to finding evidence of liquid water on Mars. They have detected frozen water in many middle to high-latitude regions. However, nothing until now has suggested there is flowing water on the planet.
Finding water on mars has long been a search of NASA. If there is water, there is hope for life on the planet. The agency has been sending spacecrafts to Mars since the 1970s.
Recently, Texas Tech associate professor and geologist David Leverington has shot down the idea that there is life on Mars. The scientist said the country has been bone dry for billions of years and life on the red planet is nothing more than a fantasy.
Leverington recently told Inside Science that slippery, low-viscosity lavas rather than floods caused Mars' grand canyons to form. He says this theory fits within a wider geological framework of Mars and compares it well to features on the moon and Venus.
The Texas Tech professor came up with this theory by disputing major assumptions of the water on Mars models. Not everyone falls in line with his belief. Victor Baker, from the University of Arizona as McEwen, said singular issues with the water hypothesis, don't mean it's not valid. He also said the lava theory is simpler but not necessarily right.