Scientists have discovered signs of flowing water on Mars in new images published in the journal Science. The study, jointly done by American and Swiss scientists, shows long and dark “tendrils”, in images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The “tendrils” are a few metres wide and go for hundreds of metres downhill during the warmth of the summer days. However, when winter hits the planet, the tendrils disappear. Scientists say that this shows the tendrils could possibly be made of thawing mud.
Richard Zurek, from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and scientist on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project, said, “”It’s hard to imagine they are formed by anything other than fluid seeping down slopes, but they appear when it’s still too cold for fresh water.”
Lead author of the report, Professor Alfred McEwen, planetary geologist of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, theorized that the observations could be explained by salt water, saying, “”The best explanation we have for these observations so far is flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that.”
Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, which could exist at these hillside places on Mars in the summer. McEwan thinks that this could be the first flowing water to appear on Mars and potentially holds the key to discovering life on Mars. Dr. Lewis Dartnell, astrobiologist at University College London, who was not a part of the study, said, “Liquid water is absolutely essential for life, and we’ve found life on Earth in pretty much every moist niche.
“So perhaps there could be hardy microbes surviving in these short periods of summer meltwater on the desert surface of Mars.”
Professor Shiladitya DasSarma from the University of Maryland agreed with Dr. Dartnell, “Their results are consistent with the presence of large and extensive underground salty lakes on Mars.”
“This is an exciting possibility for those of us studying salt-loving (halophilic) micro-organisms here on Earth, since it opens the possibility that these kinds of hearty bugs may also inhabit our neighbouring planet.”
He explained that halophilic microbes could survive in the most difficult circumstances, such as radiation in space. These “tendrils” are the next place to search for signs of life, or signs that extraterrestrial life could exist.