Water discovery on Mars an 'important step,' says Winnipeg astronomer
Researchers say they've found salty liquid water on surface of Red Planet
A Manitoba astronomer says the discovery of liquid water on Mars brings scientists even closer to finding out if there is life on the Red Planet.
Strong evidence for seasonal flows of liquid salty water have been detected by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists reported in a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
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The discovery suggests that it would be possible for life as we know it to exist on Mars today, says Scott Young, an astronomer and manager of science communication and visitor experiences at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.
"This is the confirmation that there is liquid water not millions of years ago on Mars, but today, right now, there is water that is flowing around occasionally," he said.
The new study looked at streaks that form on some slopes on Mars during warmer times of the year. Researchers say they have detected the chemical signatures of brines in the streaks, suggesting that those streaks form as the result of "water activity on Mars."
So why salty water? Young has an explanation for that.
"Mars is very, very cold — it's farther away from the sun — so just like water here on Earth in the winter, it freezes," he said.
"But just like we pour salt on the streets to melt the ice, the presence of salt lowers the freezing points of the water and actually allows it to flow in liquid form, even though it's really, really cold."
'We need to find the life itself'
But Young said researchers need to find more than just favourable conditions before concluding that there is any life on Mars.
"We need to find the life itself," he said.
"That's actually really hard to find because robots just can't do a versatile enough job to look in all the spots and do enough science to do that. Really, we need to send people there, and that will probably be the prerequisite for actually finding life."
"If there is liquid water accessible from the surface of Mars, suddenly when you're packing your spacecraft you don't have to bring a whole two years' worth of water for your voyage. You just need to bring enough for the first voyage to Mars, and then you can get the water there," he explained.
"Water, of course, is made of hydrogen and oxygen. Well, hydrogen is basically rocket fuel and oxygen is what we need to breathe. So it makes the supply chain a lot easier for astronauts."
The news from NASA came hours after Young and other local astronomers hosted hundreds of people at Assiniboine Park to view the supermoon and lunar eclipse on Sunday night.
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Young said the event, which was hosted by the Winnipeg Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, was a success in part because of clear skies and mild weather.
"It was a great show. We had 1,000 people or more out at Assiniboine Park looking through telescopes and it was just a really beautiful sight," he said.
"It really gave people the sense of the moon is a 3D world there and it's not just sort of this flat picture we see on an internet screen."