Flowing salt water discovered on Mars


Photo Courtesy: NASA

Prayag Bhakar, Junior

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the discovery of liquid, flowing salt water on Mars on Sept. 28 After ten years of rover launches and pictures of Mars, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a spacecraft sent to the planet for research, transmitted data that provided strong evidence of water in its liquid state.

The discovery here is not that water was found, but rather that flowing, liquid water was. Back in 2002, NASA provided evidence for the existence of water through orbital images, which was later confirmed by the Phenix, another rover in 2008.

After the discovery of frozen water on the martian planet, there were many theories made about its existence. The most prominent of these theories is that Mars was once warmer than it is now, allowing the existence of liquid water. Scientists have also said that Mars once had an ocean bigger than the Arctic Ocean.

Owing to the fact that water exists in the solid state, scientists sought to find out if water exists in the liquid state. They tied the existence of liquid water to the seasonal dark streaks on the surface of the planet. Known as recurring slope linnea (RSL), the streaks form during spring all over the surface of the planet, last through the summer, and disappear later on in the year.

These streaks were found to be perchlorate salt with water trapped inside them. Similar to salting of streets during the winter, salt allowed the water’s freezing temperature to drop.

Science teacher Frank Goznikar explains how the salt water on Mars is not the same as salt water found on earth.

“The water is salty, not necessarily like we are familiar with on earth, as NaCl and water,” Goznikar said. “But rather water with a few other corrosive metals which have lowered the freezing point of water way below 0 degrees Centigrade.”

In their press release, NASA stated that there are parts of Mars with temperatures above -23 degrees Celsius (-10 degrees Fahrenheit). The water’s drop in the freezing point, due to the addition to salt, and Mars’s relatively warm spring and summer, allowed the water to melt into a liquid.

Junior Emma Liu, however, takes this discovery with a grain of salt.

“We need to consider how we would filter the water,” Liu said. “It’s more of a liquid brine than the pure substance we’re quick to assume would automatically be compatible with our needs.”

Sophomore Nitin Prabakaran believes that the existence of water could lead to a discovery of life on Mars.

“Knowing that liquid water could sustain life, I do think that there is a possibility of finding some forms of life on Mars, albeit bacteria or intelligent life,” Prabakaran said.