By David Gutierrez | Natural News
After decades of ignoring or denying the growing evidence of liquid water on Mars, NASA has finally admitted that water does indeed flow across the surface of the Red Planet.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the
University of Arizona and published in the journal Nature Geosciences, raises the chances of some day finding life on Mars.
“There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars,” said NASA’s Michael Meyer, lead scientist on the Mars exploration program. “Because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today.”
Decades of dismissing the evidence
In spite of evidence going back to the 1960s, NASA has long insisted that Mars’s low gravity and thin atmosphere made it impossible for liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface. The new findings have completely upended that conventional school of thought.
“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green of NASA. “Liquid water has been found on Mars.”
As early as the 1960s, Earth telescopes found hints of water vapor in Mars’s atmosphere. The real breakthrough came in 1971, however, when the Mariner 9 spacecraft began orbiting and photographing Mars. These photographs showed geological features that had clearly been sculpted by liquid, including valleys, canyons, canals and riverbeds.
Every successive Mars mission added new evidence of water, including frozen polar caps, rocks seemingly worn smooth by water, permafrost-like patterns just beneath the surface dust and even clumps of material that vaporized when excavated.
Denying the presence of water became significantly harder in 2011, when the Mars Global Surveyor took pictures that seemed to show water literally bursting through a gully wall and flowing through the ravine. The same year, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took photos that seemed to show seasonal streams flowing down crater walls. Even then, however, scientists shied away from identifying these as streams, instead calling them “recurring slope lineae” (RSL).
Salts solve the mystery
In the new study, researchers reexamined the RSL, which can extend for hundreds of yards down the walls of valleys and craters in the spring and summer but then vanish in the autumn as temperatures fall. The researchers analyzed the RSL with a spectrometer aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. More specifically, the spectrometer analyzed the wavelength patterns of infrared light that reflects from the RSL off the nearby rocky walls. The researchers compared the readings between when the RSL first appear in the spring and right before the vanish in the fall.
The spectrometer readings showed the presence of hydrated salts (salts dissolved in water) when the RSL were present, and none when they were absent. This definitively confirmed the presence of liquid water at all four RSL sites analyzed.
“These may be the best places to search for extant life near the surface of Mars,” said senior author Alfred McEwen. “While it would be very important to find evidence of ancient life, it would be difficult to understand the biology. Current life would be much more informative.”
Because Mars is so cold, researchers had previously thought water could not long remain in liquid form. But the presence of salts — which lower the freezing point of water — solves the mystery.
Now the researchers are working to figure out where the water is coming from. Possibilities include that it is seeping out from porous rock or highly concentrated aquifers, or that it is condensing out of the atmosphere onto salty patches of ground.
“It’s a fascinating piece of work,” said John Bridge of the University of Leicester, who was not involved in the study. “Our view of Mars is changing, and we’ll be discussing this for a long time to come.”
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This article originally appeared on Natural News.