NASA Cameras Find Flowing Water on the Red Planet

Discovery Has Implications for Future Robotic and Manned Missions

The thought of Martians has been on the minds of humans for years. In science fiction movies, Martians are often portrayed as little, green men with antennae. Of course, this isn’t an accurate depiction. Experts suggest that any life forms on Mars would be microscopic. Also, there would have to be water present on Mars for life to exist here in the first place.

In 2008, scientists confirmed the existence of frozen water on Mars, surprising many. Recently, strong evidence indicates that liquid water is also present on the frozen planet. “Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science for NASA. Discovered by an orbiter’s high-resolution telescopic camera, the liquid water potentially has huge implications: Martian life might not be just a dream anymore.

Pictures from the telescopic camera show that the liquid water is in rivulets, 12 to 15 feet wide and 300 or more feet long. But the rivulets are not streams; they actually consist of wet soil. Further, scientists believe the water contains certain salts that prevent the water from freezing in Mars’ low temperatures. Experts believe this salt is a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate, and sodium perchlorate. The telescopic images also show that the flowing water appears to be dark, narrow streaks on the planet’s surface that grow and fade in the warmest and coldest Martian months.

The presence of water on Mars not only means the possibility of life on this planet. It also makes the lives of future visitors to the Red Planet easier. NASA plans on sending groups of humans to Mars beginning in 2024. When they arrive, these brave astronauts could use the liquid water to create oxygen and rocket fuel, or just for drinking. According to Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, “water is one of the most precious resources necessary for a human mission to the red planet.”

Scientists are now waiting expectantly for 2020, when a U.S. lander is set to leave for Mars. The lander will collect rocks and soil that will be analyzed back on Earth. Before then, humans have no way of knowing whether life is present in the water on Mars, or what caused the outflow of briny water in the first place. For now, humans will have to contend with their dreams of little green men on the surface of Mars.

[Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Associated Press]