There's water on Mars. Could there be Martians? This undated photo provided by NASA and taken by an instrument aboard the agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks on the surface of Mars that scientists believe were caused by flowing streams of salty water. Researchers said Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, that the latest observations strongly support the longtime theory that salt water in liquid form flows down certain Martian slopes each summer. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona via AP)
There's water on Mars. Could there be Martians?
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Mars appears to have flowing rivulets of water, at least in the summer, scientists have reported in a finding that boosts the odds of life on the red planet.
 
"Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past," said Jim Green, director of planetary science for NASA.
 
Scientists in 2008 confirmed the existence of frozen water on Mars. Now instruments aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have yielded what researchers said is the strongest evidence yet that water in liquid form trickles down certain Martian slopes.
 
And because liquid water is essential to life, the finding could have major implications for the possibility of microscopic life forms on Earth's next-door neighbor.
 
"It suggests that it would be possible for there to be life today on Mars," NASA's science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, said Sept. 28 at a Washington news conference.
 
The rivulets - if that's what they are, since the evidence for their existence is indirect - are about 12 to 15 feet wide and 300 feet or more long, scientists said. They apparently consist of wet soil, not standing water.
 
The water is believed to contain certain salts - not ordinary table salt, but magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Like road salt used to melt ice and snow on Earth, such compounds can prevent water from freezing at extremely low temperatures.
 
That would explain how water could exist in liquid form on Mars, which has an average temperature of minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
In addition to supporting life, the presence of liquid water could make things easier for astronauts visiting or living on Mars. Water could be used for drinking and for creating oxygen and rocket fuel. NASA's goal is to send humans there in the 2030s.
 
Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars exploration program, said the only definitive way for now to determine whether there's life on Mars is to collect rocks and soil for analysis on Earth, something a U.S. lander set for liftoff in 2020 will do.
 
"Water is one of the most precious resources necessary for a human mission to the red planet," Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House science, space and technology committee, said in a statement. "The more evidence we find of it, the more encouraged I am for future Mars missions."
 
Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona at Tucson, a scientist on the project, said he believes the possibility of life on Mars to be "very high."
 
The source of the briny water is a mystery. Scientists said it could be melting ice, an underground aquifer, water vapor from the thin Martian atmosphere, or some combination.
 
The evidence of flowing water consists largely of dark, narrow streaks on the surface that tend to appear and grow during the warmest Martian months and fade the rest of the year. The streaks are in places where the temperature is as low as 10 below zero.
 
They were spotted by the Mars orbiter's high-resolution, telescopic camera, and another on-board instrument detected the chemical signature of salt compounds combined with water.
 
McEwen said that there appears to be a "significant volume" of water, speculating it could fill many Olympic swimming pools, but that it is spread thin.
 
Present-day Mars is nothing like ancient Mars. Three billion years ago, our most Earthlike neighbor had a huge ocean, but something radical happened, and exactly what remains a mystery.
 
The notion of water and life on Mars has been irresistible to earthlings for generations.
 
In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli spied what he called "canali" on Mars - Italian for "channels" - but the word was mistranslated as "canals" in English, causing imaginations to run wild. In the early 1900s, amateur astronomer Percival Lowell claimed to have spotted irrigation canals and theorized they were built by Martians.
 
In 2008, NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars and confirmed the long-suspected presence of ice in the soil. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the planet since 2006.
 
The latest findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The lead author, Lujendra Ojha, a doctoral candidate at Georgia Institute of Technology, first noticed the streaks on Mars in 2010. Ojha and colleagues speculated at the time that they were seeing flowing water.
 
For NASA, at least, the timing couldn't be better. On Oct. 2, the NASA-approved movie "The Martian" has its premiere.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does the discovery of water on Mars beg the question about life on Mars?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (15)
  • benjaminc-day
    10/05/2015 - 11:24 a.m.

    Scientists have confirmed that there is water on Mars. Since water is essential for life, we might be closer to finding the first sign of life outside of earth. In the past we thought Mars was dry and arid but now that we know it has water there might be a possibility of life on other planets. We will not be sending astronauts there until 2030 but when we do we could make huge discoveries and maybe eventually have humans living on Mars.

  • luket-4-bar
    10/05/2015 - 08:08 p.m.

    The discovery of water on mars begs the question of life on mars because water is a necessity for life. It is just one less thing needed to support life. I think this was very interesting that there could be life on mars.

  • mathewb-day
    10/07/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    It's cool that we found flowing water on Mars but if the only life on Mars is single celled organisms, does it really matter? We know that single celled organisms could evolve into something more but that would take billions of years. Personally I don't find it exciting to find single celled organisms on Mars.

  • baylees-day
    10/08/2015 - 05:24 p.m.

    As a firm believer in Aliens, I found this article very interesting. I can't wait to hear what new discoveries are made when they finally send humans to mars. Plus I just say the movie "The Martian", and it was very good, the whole idea was unique and apparently not too far from the reality of it. Space is utterly fascinating, and I, personally, have no doubt that there could be another planet out there that can support human life, and the possibility that there is one in our own solar system is exciting!

  • austinw-day
    10/09/2015 - 12:11 p.m.

    As stated in the article, water is essential for life to begin. As human beings, it's no secret that without water, we couldn't last a few simple days. Yet the same goes with other life forms as well, such as the plants that use for our oxygen. Knowing that water is essential for life and it was found on Mars, allows the theory of living and breathing Martians somewhere on that giant desert.

  • robertc-pay
    10/14/2015 - 11:15 a.m.

    I think martians can possibly be out there because of the water. Water is one of the important thing in the world because without water we will die. I believe that water started all species and water means life

  • maddyc-Orv
    10/16/2015 - 12:30 p.m.

    The discovery of water on Mars begs the question about life on Mars because if there is water, there is life. Everything evolves from water. First it's little algae, then little insects, then little mammals and reptiles and then they evolve and yeah, LIFE.

  • tylerl-day
    10/16/2015 - 08:22 p.m.

    I wish I could go to space. I dream of a world where going from planet to planet becomes as simple as going from exit 8 to exit 10 on the highway. Where space ships become the main method of transportstion. Where we coexist with other worlds and in turn learn to work together as earthlings.

  • hinson,marquis-cas
    10/22/2015 - 10:08 a.m.

    1. Water is one of the most essential things to life on our planet. We wouldn't know of other organisms that could survive the environment on Mars because obviously we've never seen one. So if we find water, we can expect life forms similar to the species on Earth.
    2. News like this is very exciting to me because I'm just waiting for the day we find extraterrestrials or a way to live on another planet.

  • erinu-day
    11/01/2015 - 06:40 p.m.


    There is no doubt in my mind that there is life on Mars. Since the recent discovery of flowing water on mars, it just seems more probable that there is life on Mars. Because water is such an essential part of life for species the fact that there is water on Mars means that it is extremely likely that Mars holds life forms. It's just a matter of how intelligent those life forms are and what exactly they are.

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