NASA announced on September 29 that new findings made by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggest sporadic liquid water flow on present-day Mars. The MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 and is equipped with six scientific instruments. Using one such instrument, the imaging spectrometer, researchers detected hydrated minerals on Martian slopes marked with dark streaks. These streaks, appearing in several locations where the temperature goes below negative 23 degrees Celsius, darken during warm seasons and fade in cooler ones.
During the warm seasons, streaks flow downhill - a phenomenon characterized as recurring slope lineae (RSL). The streaks were found to be composed of sodium and magnesium perchlorate, chemicals that drastically depress the freezing temperature of water, allowing it to flow in liquid form despite sub-zero temperatures.
Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the lead author of a report on these findings published on September 28 in Nature Geoscience, explains that “the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks.”
Many share the excitement and optimism for future research. Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, comments that, “the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and whether there are resources to support life in the future.”