Water on Mars? Buzz over Nasa's news event

HOUSTON • There is growing speculation that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) is about to announce it has found water on Mars after scheduling a media conference for today entitled "Mars mystery solved".

The speculation was triggered after Nasa said one of the speakers alongside two of its senior scientists at the press conference would be Mr Lujendra Ojha, a grad student at Georgia Tech who has been credited with "accidentally" discovering the first major evidence that moving water existed on the Red Planet.

He made the discovery after studying images of gullies on the planet's surface back in 2011 while at the University of Arizona, reported the Daily Mail.

For his study, Mr Ojha edited the images to remove blemishes such as shadows and light interference to uncover dark finger-like markings that moved through the gullies on Mars' surface over time. The markings moved in a pattern that would be consistent with flowing water.

While Mr Ojha branded the discovery a "lucky accident", he committed to years of research in trying to prove the markings were actually created by flowing water, during which time he moved to Georgia Tech.

Since his discovery, observations of similar sites on Mars have revealed that the same patterns seem to emerge in summer months on the planet only to die away when surfaces are cooler, giving rise to fervent speculation that there could be flowing water, or even an ocean that rises to ground level during warmer weather.

Definitive proof of liquid water on Mars would be the best evidence that life may have once existed on the planet, or may come into existence. Nasa has plans to send humans to Mars by the 2030s and is currently developing capabilities to make long-term space travel possible.

The conference is scheduled to take place today at 9pm Singapore time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Water on Mars? Buzz over Nasa's news event'. Print Edition | Subscribe