Liquid water found on Mars

2015-09-28 18:50

There had been no evidence for water on Mars - until now, says Nasa. Get the latest as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) makes a major announcement about the Red Planet.


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Last Updated at 04:05
28 Sep 18:44

So here's AFP's summary of Nasa's major announcement:

Curious lines running down slopes on the Martian surface, may be streaks of super-salty brine, said the latest findings on Monday in the scientific quest for extra-terrestrial liquid water, a prerequisite for life.

A team from the United States and France said it found evidence in the lines of "hydrated" salt minerals, which require water for their creation.These results "strongly support the hypothesis" of liquid water on Mars today, concluded a research paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Astrophysicists have long hypothesised that the seasonal streaks, dubbed "recurring slope lineae" (RSL), may be formed by brine flows on the Red Planet.

The lines, up to a few hundred metres in length and typically under five metres wide, appear on slopes during warm seasons, lengthen, then fade as they cool.

But spacecraft images have not been detailed enough to probe what is within the lines - the pixel resolution is coarser than the width of the streaks.

In April, scientists reported in the same journal that perchlorate salts, like the ones in the new study, were "widespread" on the surface of our planetary neighbour and humidity and temperature conditions just right for salty brines to exist.

Perchlorate is highly absorbent and lowers the freezing point of water so that it remains liquid at colder temperatures. The new study found signs of these same salts in the enigmatic streaks.

"What our paper does is further substantiate that theoretical possibility" of liquid brines on Mars, co-author Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta told AFP by email.

'Almost' proof

The team devised a method to extract more data from individual pixels in images from the CRISM spectrometer instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and found details "consistent with the presence of hydrated salt minerals that precipitate (crystallise) from water," according to a Nature press release.

"The findings strongly suggest a link between the transient streaks on Martian slopes and the flow of liquid brines," it added.

Asked if the data was unequivocal proof of liquid water on Mars, another of the study authors, Alfred McEwen from the University of Arizona, told AFP: "I would say almost."

But if there was, it was likely "wet soil, not free water sitting on the surface," he said by email.It is widely accepted that the Red Planet once hosted plentiful water in liquid form, and still has water today, albeit frozen in ice underground.

Earlier this year, Nasa said almost half of Mars' northern hemisphere had once been an ocean, reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometres.

But 87% of the precious substance was lost to space. 

28 Sep 18:29
Nasa ends conference with: Please stay tuned to science.

28 Sep 18:28
Alfred McEwen says the water on Mars would be significantly saltier than Earth's ocean water.

28 Sep 18:26
We haven't seen rain on Mars but we have seen snow. We know there is a water cycle. 3-4 billion years ago, there was a very active water flow. So it did rain.

28 Sep 18:24
Scientist jokes in response to question about Mars water, "what next?" Drink it, he says.

28 Sep 18:23
"If I were a microbe on Mars, I would probably not live near these RSLs. I would want to live north or south ... We only suspect those places exist and we have some scientific evidence that they do. That's the object of investigation."

28 Sep 18:18

28 Sep 18:11
We know there's life on Mars - because we sent it there - Nasa

28 Sep 18:10
The panel is taking questions from reporters now.

28 Sep 18:04
Next year, Nasa, in partnership with the European space agency, will be looking into the interior of Mars.

28 Sep 18:02
Check out Nasa's animation which 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.

28 Sep 17:57
These are dark streaks that form in late spring, grow through the summer & disappear in the fall - Nasa's Michael Meyer.

28 Sep 17:57

28 Sep 17:56

28 Sep 17:50
Scientist Luja Ojha is now talking about spectroscopy, the process by which scientists were able to find the hydrated salts which prove the existence of water. 

28 Sep 17:47

28 Sep 17:44
There have been gullies and other features that look like they're the result of water. But this is the first time that we have evidence of it.

28 Sep 17:41

Dark streaks found on Mars surface - Michael Meyer

There had been no evidence for water - until now, says Meyer.

28 Sep 17:39
Mars isn't the dry, arid planet we once thought. Liquid water has been found on Mars - Nasa

28 Sep 17:36

Mars was once a planet very much like Earth - Nasa

Something happened to Mars...

28 Sep 17:33
The news conference has begun.

28 Sep 16:51
Big media organisations such as CNN say that three of the scientists slated to address reporters at the conference could point towards what the big announcement will be. They say the announcement will likely be about periodically flowing water on the red planet.

28 Sep 16:41
As expected, there have been quite a few less-than-serious tweets about the big announcement. Here's one.

28 Sep 16:34
Nasa says the participants in the news conference will be: Jim Green, director of planetary science at Nasa Headquarters, Michael Meyer, lead scientist for Nasa's Mars Exploration Programme, Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Mary Beth Wilhelm of Nasa’s Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California and the Georgia Institute of Technology and Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) at the University of Arizona.

28 Sep 16:15

Speculation is continuing to build about what massive Mars announcement Nasa is going to make on Monday.

Although many might hope that it'll be aliens, the Huffington Post reckons it probably won't.

"NASA will detail a major science finding from the agency’s ongoing exploration of Mars," the organisation announced on Friday.

It is possible that it will be announced that there is flowing water across the red planet's surface.

Flowing water could start the search for life on Mars, a discovery which Doug McCuistion, former head of NASA’s Mars programme, called "game-changing".

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