NASA confirms evidence that liquid water flows on today's Mars (Update)

September 28, 2015
These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

"Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water,' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water—albeit briny—is flowing today on the surface of Mars."

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it's likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

"We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks," said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. The dark streaks here are up to few hundred meters in length. They are hypothesized to be formed by flow of briny liquid water on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren't as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.

The video will load shortly
This animation simulates a fly-around look at one of the places on Mars where dark streaks advance down slopes during warm seasons, possibly involving liquid water. This site is within Hale Crater. The streaks are roughly the length of a football field.

Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA's Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet's soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study of RSL detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit.

MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.

"The ability of MRO to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are," said Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The image shows dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing down the west facing slopes of Coprates Chasma in the equatorial region of Mars. These dark streaks flowing downhill on warm Martian slopes have been inferred to be contemporary flowing liquid water on Mars. Discovery of hydrated salts in these slopes have corroborated the liquid water hypotheses. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water.

"When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water," he said. "Now we know there's more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid -formation hypotheses for RSL."

The discovery is the latest of many breakthroughs by NASA's Mars missions.

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Horowitz crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

"It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is on the surface of this cold, desert planet," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future."

There are eight co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper, including Mary Beth Wilhelm at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and Georgia Tech; CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland; and HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Others are at Georgia Tech, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique in Nantes, France.

Explore further: Briny water may be at work in seasonal flows on Mars

More information: Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2546

Related Stories

Briny water may be at work in seasonal flows on Mars

August 4, 2011

Dark, finger-like features that appear and extend down some Martian slopes during the warmest months of the Mars year may show activity of salty water on Mars. They fade in winter, then recur the next spring.

Flowing water on Mars appears likely but hard to prove

February 10, 2014

(Phys.org) —Martian experts have known since 2011 that mysterious, possibly water-related streaks appear and disappear on the planet's surface. Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. candidate Lujendra Ojha discovered them ...

Recommended for you

Rocky planet found orbiting habitable zone of nearest star

August 24, 2016

An international team of astronomers including Carnegie's Paul Butler has found clear evidence of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. The new world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool ...

WISE, Fermi missions reveal a surprising blazar connection

August 24, 2016

Astronomers studying distant galaxies powered by monster black holes have uncovered an unexpected link between two very different wavelengths of the light they emit, the mid-infrared and gamma rays. The discovery, which was ...

Test for damp ground at Mars streaks finds none

August 24, 2016

Seasonal dark streaks on Mars that have become one of the hottest topics in interplanetary research don't hold much water, according to the latest findings from a NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars.

35 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Steve 200mph Cruiz
4.3 / 5 (12) Sep 28, 2015
Mars suddenly seems like a pretty dynamic place.
I hope if we find life there we are able to protect it, because it is probably going to be around all the resources we want for ourselves
bschott
1.5 / 5 (12) Sep 28, 2015
Mars suddenly seems like a pretty dynamic place.
I hope if we find life there we are able to protect it, because it is probably going to be around all the resources we want for ourselves


Perspective time: a metric tonne of diamonds is worth app. 20 billion dollars at today's prices. The cost estimates for a trip to mars and a return range from 6-60 billion (without the diamonds). There are no resources in existence that will make the cost feasible to use mars for resources. It would be the finding of life itself that will warrant the trip. So if by protecting it you mean going, taking as many samples as we can and bringing them back to earth to experiment on...yes it will be protected.

The mission will be dubbed project Trojan. Ribbed for mars protection (and pleasure).

Nobody is going to Mars, ask Chris Hadfield.
gkam
3.9 / 5 (16) Sep 28, 2015
bschott, not necessarily. The resources are for those on Mars, resources we do not have to bring.

Edenlegaia
4.2 / 5 (10) Sep 28, 2015

Nobody is going to Mars, ask Chris Hadfield.


Yet. Nobody is going to Mars YET.
EyeNStein
3.8 / 5 (8) Sep 28, 2015
Chemically, Perchlorates and chlorates are bleach, rocket fuel oxidiser and weed-killers.
It will not be any intelligent life that survives in THAT brine.
Though life does survive the hot and highly toxic environment of seabed volcanic fumeroles on Earth so the Martian brines will not necessarily be sterile.
Uncle Ira
3.2 / 5 (11) Sep 28, 2015
The resources are for those on Mars, resources we do not have to bring.


Are you really going to the Mars Cher? If you are not going to bring water are you going to bring along the drilling rig?

Shootist
2.4 / 5 (10) Sep 28, 2015
Mars suddenly seems like a pretty dynamic place.
I hope if we find life there we are able to protect it, because it is probably going to be around all the resources we want for ourselves


How does one go about "protecting" a planet? What rubbish. We need to start whacking Mars with great big icy comets as soon as possible..
holographic_consciousness
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2015
MARS IS ALIVE AND WELL. At beyond freezing or frozen temperatures, Water is in motion regardless how salty it is, geological and biological active producing Methane, Oxygen being produced when "water" the soiled, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and etc. MARS IS MORE ALIVE THAN WE THINK.
Jayded
4 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2015
That is such small thinking. Of course we will colonize mars and yes, we will return with martian resources mined over time.
Egleton
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2015
Perchlorate is an energy source for microbes on earth. Therefore either there is no life there using the stuff or the perchlorate is being used as an energy store by very clever organisms, in much the same way our planet uses ATP.
In my opinion the water on the moon is far more significant. It is not clever to get out of this gravity well and then go down another.
Far better to colonize L4 and L5.
They can support many orders of magnitude more people than exist on this planet.
ZBar
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 29, 2015
"How does one go about "protecting" a planet? What rubbish. We need to start whacking Mars with great big icy comets as soon as possible..."

I said this years ago about Venus, even wrote a letter to professor who wrote about terraforming... he never replied.

A guy can dream...
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3.9 / 5 (8) Sep 29, 2015
@EyeNStein: "Chemically, Perchlorates ... are bleach, rocket fuel oxidiser and weed-killers."

References, please. Perchlorates are thermally activated ("rocket fuel oxidiser") but are benign redox sources at lower temperatures - they are part of the nutrients that Atacama prokaryotes consume IIRC. And Mars is colder the day cycle around.

Perchlorates happen to be toxic to animals with central nerve systems AFAIK, can make fish go blind/brain damaged. But that seems to be a quirk of evolution because they appear at so low concentrations where such life exist. Never heard that they are used as bleach or as weed killers.

"The dominant use of perchlorates are for propellants in rockets. ... Potassium perchlorate has, in the past, been used therapeutically to treat hyperthyroidism ... [ https://en.wikipe...ate#Uses ]

As a comparison, NaCl is a common constituent inside and outside of cells.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.5 / 5 (8) Sep 29, 2015
@ZBar: What could the professor tell you that wasn't already in his article? Of course one can ask for research details or advice on studies et cetera, but usually attempts at communication is a waste of time for both parts.

"Planet protection" is a term with a history. More specifically people avoid contamination early on because experiments are difficult and early results valuable. What will happen later is another question, if we explore or colonize we will establish our own ecologies elsewhere. It has always been such, and especially after we domesticated plants and animals.
SoylentGrin
5 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2015
Therefore either there is no life there using the stuff...


That doesn't follow. That's like saying since H2S is a food source for chemosynthetic microbes at hydrothermal vents, we shouldn't see any. Yet, we see so much of it, they're called "black smokers".
bschott
2.4 / 5 (5) Sep 29, 2015
That is such small thinking. Of course we will colonize mars and yes, we will return with martian resources mined over time.


Ironic you go by jayded. That is a pretty optimistic statement. What will we colonize first, Antarctica or Mars?

People who watch too much sci-fi don't understand the physical requirements to live on a planet like mars. Earth after a nuclear holocaust is still a more hospitable environment, and it doesn't cost between 6-60 billion dollars to stay. If it isn't economically viable to go and bring back a metric tonne of the most valued natural mineral we know of....and we don't find any living organisms...you think a sense of adventure is what will take us there?

"Yeah, I wanna go live on a freeze dried dustball and cut my life expectancy by more than half due to the physical ramifications of doing it...it'll be a blast!"

Why do you think we sent robots? If they find nothing...we don't go.
bschott
2.2 / 5 (6) Sep 29, 2015
bschott, not necessarily. The resources are for those on Mars, resources we do not have to bring.



OK. So the rovers have found some interesting features, but nothing interesting enough to start prepping a manned mission as of yet....including resources. If they do it could be a different story, if not, we are again talking about a 6-60 billion dollar mineralogical survey...one team...6-8 people....

"OK guys, go search the PLANET for a reason to come back. God speed and good luck!"

Now let's say they do find that reason. Everything will have to be electrically fuelled until we can build a reactor there....electric mining and construction equipment doesn't exist on the scale that is required to build what is necessary to sustain a colony. Every trip costs between 3-30 billion dollars....one way and that isn't computing for weight.

Sorry guys, the big picture doesn't have a human living on mars for a very long time. Not while cash is king.
AGreatWhopper
5 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2015
The Ice Warriors deal with it just fine.
Fakeer
not rated yet Sep 29, 2015
The rovers have been in operation for a while. How come they never caught something like this? Altitude?
Vietvet
4 / 5 (4) Sep 29, 2015
About Planetary Protection
http://planetaryp...ov/about

Why NASA Didn't Just Send Over A Rover To Look For Water On Mars
SEPTEMBER 29, 2015 1:50 PM ET
http://www.npr.or...20150929
Returners
1 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2015
Ironic you go by jayded. That is a pretty optimistic statement. What will we colonize first, Antarctica or Mars?


First of all, Diamond is not the most valuable material we know of. Platinum and certain other rare metals are actually several times more costly.

Second, due to environmentalist nut-jobs, it is probably actually harder to live and work in Antarctica than it is on Mars.

third, Antarctica has 80 to 100mph winds at Earth air pressures, which means Antarctic winds actually have around 10 times the destructive force of Mars' 300mph winds. Therefore construction of an environment-resistant shelter is actually harder in Antarctica, at least in principle.

Fourth, I'm about the only person alive who has seriously considered realistic design of Mars habitat from the perspective of multiple-redundancy, fire control, and other fail-safes, and in most cases so-called "high tech" solutions won't actually work, but you actually need "cave man" passive solutions.
mreda14
1 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2015
These authors claim that these downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times. The random locations strongly indicate a foreign origin due to asteroid impact.Furthermore, these RSL must have melting point of about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius) and appear dark in liquid phase only.
mreda14
not rated yet Oct 02, 2015
Magnesium perchlorate is a white crystalline solid. Strongly absorbs water from air and dissolves in it. Accordingly, used as a regenerable drying agent. May explode under prolonged exposure to heat or fire
mreda14
not rated yet Oct 02, 2015
Magnesium perchlorate is known to be a good catalyst for many organic compounds at near room temperature. I think these these downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) are strong sign saying
YANKEES GO HOME
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2015
The raw materials, in the form of perchlorates, are already there, for the purpose of initiating a Terra-formation program. Some of those 40 microorganisms, including methanogens, isolated since 1996 and capable of growth via perchlorate reduction can be introduced into the current Mars ecosystem to generate free oxygen and take part in the creation of a viable atmosphere.

https://en.wikipe...chlorate >> Biology
Bongstar420
5 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2015
Woot!

Looks like rocket fuel already there.

Jayded
not rated yet Oct 04, 2015
bschott - we will go, we will mine it, we will attempt to terra form it. These things will happen because that what we do, because thats what we dream about doing. After Mars there will be some other place, the essence of life is to make more life, its in our nature, cash aside.
viko_mx
1 / 5 (7) Oct 04, 2015
"That is such small thinking. Of course we will colonize mars and yes, we will return with martian resources mined over time."

In this site anonymous voters promote stupidity and sick fantasies.
The suggestion must be that the man rejected His Creator is moving rapidly forward in its development, when in fact steeped in deception and spiritual poverty, and fundamental science stopped its developing for several decades and has returned back in the Dark Ages. Pure humanism.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Oct 04, 2015
How do people get so insecure they choose to adopt an invisible and imaginary being and create an entire life around it?

Reality must be REALLY SCARY to some.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 04, 2015
If we discover life on other planets, how will that effect religion? Aren't we the center of the Universe? Weren't we all there was? Did god forget to tell us we had cousins?
Returners
2 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2015
If we discover life on other planets, how will that effect religion? Aren't we the center of the Universe? Weren't we all there was? Did god forget to tell us we had cousins?


Actually, the Bible has on several instances stated that there are other beings in the heavens, and even claims that some of them interbred with humans on at least one and perhaps two different occasions. So discovering life on another planet would not in any way contradict the Bible.

Man was given dominion over the Earth and everything upon the Earth, but nowhere does the Bible claim that man was the center of the universe, nor even the highest creation. That is actually a misconception and a false doctrine which has been in much of the Church for a very long time now.

For example, the Psalmist wrote that God had "...created man a little lower than the Angels," but the Word of Faith and other heretics mis-translate that as "Elohim" when the term does not actually appear there.
Returners
1 / 5 (3) Oct 04, 2015
In other words, it is like a homonym, when a word has the same spelling but is actually a different word.

The issue here is that in every appearance of Angels in the Bible, man bow to the Angel and in a few cases even mistake the Angel to be God, but nevertheless Angels are always seen to be superior to humans.

The context of the passage then indicates that man is made a little lower than the Angels, and is not "a little lower than God"...there's no such thing as a "little lower than omnipotent" that would be a non-sense statement.

At any rate, there are other beings "out there," whether or not they exist in the limited sense of biology or biochemistry as we know it or think we know it.

The Angels as depicted in the Bible are finite (but immortal) beings, but they do appear to transcend some of the laws we know or think we know.
Returners
1 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2015
How do people get so insecure they choose to adopt an invisible and imaginary being and create an entire life around it?

Reality must be REALLY SCARY to some.


The existence of a Supreme Being is both the beginning and the end of all sound Logic.
JustAnotherGuy
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 04, 2015
If we discover life on other planets, how will that effect religion?

That depends to which religion you're referring.
In the case of creationism, there are different "forms" of it, which depends on Bible's interpretation: whether in a more literal way, or a more philosophical way.
Those from the first group are, likely, more affected due to discrepancies between their interpretations and the current evidences.

Look at this guide for more details (skip to "Figure 1" for quick reference): http://ncse.com/c...ontinuum

As far I know, these discrepancies doesn't result in disappearance of that group, nor in reconciliation with the evidence, but lead to a perpetual antagonist stance.
bschott
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 05, 2015
bschott - we will go, we will mine it, we will attempt to terra form it. These things will happen because that what we do, because thats what we dream about doing. After Mars there will be some other place, the essence of life is to make more life, its in our nature, cash aside.


When you say "we"....what percentage of the population are you referring to? I'll bet you straight up, 1$ a head, if we survey the entire planet... there are more people who don't want to go to mars than who want to go. Although it is in our nature to make life, protecting it isn't as high on the list of priorities (in case you haven't noticed our activities on THIS planet are resulting in a mass extinction of geological proportions.)

Think about ALL of the variables, not dreams.

Reality must be REALLY SCARY to some.


Being aboard Mars 1 when they start noticing all of the stuff they have to deal with that was missed by the mission planners....

docile
Oct 05, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.