Mars water find boosts quest for extra-terrestrial life

By: | Published: September 29, 2015 11:40 PM

The search for extra-terrestrial life just got a big boost from NASA's stunning announcement that it now has its strongest evidence yet of liquid water on Mars.

The search for extra-terrestrial life just got a big boost from NASA’s stunning announcement that it now has its strongest evidence yet of liquid water on Mars.

So did the prospects for human exploration of the red planet because the presence of flowing water could help sustain future manned missions, NASA scientists say.

“We now have great opportunities to be on the right locations on Mars to fully investigate the existence of life on Mars,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science missions.

The evidence advanced by the space agency yesterday centers on some unusual streaks found on steep slopes on the Martian surface.

A team of experts concluded in a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience that water played a vital role in the formation of the lines because of the presence of hydrated salt minerals, which contain water molecules.

NASA said the findings “provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.”

“The exciting thing about this announcement is the confirmation of what we suspected — that this is due to some kind of water feature,” Grunsfeld said.

Some day, he said, a manned mission will go to Mars and retrieve samples from the area where the streaks were found by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The former astronaut said he expected NASA’s engineers and scientists in the meantime will use their ingenuity to come up with viable experiments to detect the presence of life.

“We have the capability to go there, ask these questions of life on Mars and answer it,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “Not an abstract question but a concrete one.”

Even before Monday’s announcement, scientists believed chances were great that microbial life forms exist below the Martian surface, possibly in subterranean aquifers.

“To me the existence of microbial life in the subsurface of Mars has been very high,” said Alfred McEwan, a University of Arizona researcher who is the principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRise), the powerful camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Life forms probably could only survive below ground because the surface of Mars is so inhospitable, bombarded as it is by ultraviolet rays from the sun that would destroy all life as we know it, say experts, who note that Mars’ thin atmosphere would offer little protection.

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