Mars has water in liquid form, says Nasa

Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars are seen in an image produced by Nasa, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Arizona.
Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars are seen in an image produced by Nasa, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Arizona. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Liquid water has been observed on the planet Mars, the United States space agency Nasa said yesterday.

"Mars is not the dry, arid planet we thought of in the past," Dr Jim Green, Nasa's planetary science director, told a press conference.

"Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars."

Scientists have long believed that water once flowed freely across the red planet and was responsible for forming its valleys and canyons.

Major climate change about three billion years ago is believed to have changed all that, Dr Green said.

"Today, we're revolutionising our understanding of this planet," he said. "Our rovers are finding there's a lot more humidity in the air."

The rovers searching the planet's surface have also found that the soil is much more moist than anticipated.

Dark streaks running down slopes on the Martian surface were observed about four years ago.

Scientists did not have proof, however, that these streaks - which would form in spring, grow by summer and then disappear by autumn - were actually water.

But after careful study and analysis, they are ready to say that these streaks are, in fact, water.

In April, scientists reported in the journal Nature Geoscience that perchlorate salts were "widespread" on the surface of our planetary neighbour and humidity and temperature conditions were 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.

A new study just published in the same journal found signs of these same salts in the enigmatic streaks.

Astrophysicists have long hypothesised that the seasonal streaks, dubbed "recurring slope lineae", may be formed by brine flows on the planet.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Mars has water in liquid form, says Nasa'. Print Edition | Subscribe