Monday, 28 September 2015

NASA Announces Water on the Surface of Mars

NASA has made an announcement that's of great interest to planetary scientists and space enthusiasts: Evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Until now the only place in the entire Universe that we've been able to find surface water is Earth. If there's water on Mars it has significant implications for the search for alien life. It's unlikely that there's any life associated with this particular water (for example, there's still lethal radiation to deal with), but it does make martian life slightly more likely than it seemed yesterday.

At the very least it makes Mars a more habitable environment than we previously thought, so it also has implications for colonizing the Red Planet.

It's important to understand that the latest evidence is indirect, meaning that we haven't actually seen it close-up or confirmed that it's really water. However the evidence is strong enough that we can be quite confident.

Also note that we've been accumulating evidence of martian water and ice for years, so today's news is a good incremental step forward in our understanding rather than a massive leap. I may seem a bit blasé compared to the breathless exhilaration being shown by some people, but that's just how I see it. Surface water is great but let's keep it in perspective. It's not a lake or river; at best it's a relatively small amount of liquid mixed up in the martian soil.

In any case, expect more evidence of water in the years to come.

Below:"Recurrent Slope Lineae", dark streaks that appear on the sides of craters and canyons. This is where NASA thinks the liquid water is, based on the changing patterns throughout the martian year.

One mystery is exactly where this water comes from. There are a few theories but they all have problems. That's part of the fun though - trying to figure these things out and learn more about planets and geology in the process (knowledge that can usually be applied here on Earth too).

What does all this mean for the "Mars One" mission to send people on a one-way trip to Mars? Sadly the answer is nothing because (in my opinion) that mission is unrealistic anyway. I seriously doubt whether it will ever get off the ground. Still, people will get to Mars one day and when they do, having easily accessible water on site would be a huge bonus.

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