Liquid water found on Mars

Nasa’s Scientist find strong evidence of liquid H20 on the surface of Mars.

  • By Vladimir Abbas

Liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months on Mars, according to researchers who say the discovery raises the chances of being home to some form of life.

The trickles leave long, dark stains on the Martian terrain that can reach hundreds of metres downhill in the warmer months, before they dry up in the autumn as surface temperatures drop.

Nasa is most excited by the find’s potential cost savings and increase in sustainability for manned missions to the planet. Finding a substantial source of clean  water would theoretically allow astronauts to ‘live off the land’.

Researchers have long wondered whether liquid water might occasionally flow across the surface in present times. The main arguments against such possibilities have been a combination of sub zero freezing temperatures, thin atmosphere ad low atmospheric pressures. Low pressure means that when ice does warm up to liquidity it is highly volatile and rapidly boils off into the atmosphere at temperatures much lower than it would on Earth.

Scientists have now however identified the chemical signatures of Magnesium Perchlorate, Clorate and Chloride salts. Such slats can lower the freezing point of water by some 80 degrees Celsius as well as reducing it’s vaporisation rate by a factor of 10. This combination allows briney water to stay in a stable liquid state long enough to run down the sides of hills and mountains.

The source of the water however is still a much debated fact. The theory which is most supported by the raw data currently is that the salts are actually pulling the water straight out of the air, however it is not known yet if the atmosphere contains large enough quantities of water vapour for this to be reality.
Another theory is that large underground ice stores held at great depth are the source, least likely of all theories seems to be that there are underground liquid aquifers, but this theory does not explain why the warter seems mainly to run from the peaks of mountains, hills and cliffs. It is however entirely possible that much like on Earth different parts of the planet have different sources for their fresh liquid water.

Current internationally agreed rules state that all missions to Mars must undertake extreme caution in areas suspected of hosting liquid water due to the risk of cross-planetary contamination.

Several nations for many years including the USA and Russia have been planning and training fro manned missions to Mars with the intent of creating a permanently manned base station on the planet. It is unclear whether this would be in the form of micro climates created in pods or via a larger scale if not eventual full scale terraforming of the atmosphere. Russia currently has it’s human crew in a 10 year training program ready for the one way mission.

V.Abbas@theinternational.org.uk