Flowing Water = Life on Mars?

Exploration of Mars

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by Mark Aragona

Dark marks on the surface of Mars that may indicate the presence of flowing water have scientists abuzz anew with the possibility of finding primitive life on the Red Planet.

A new search algorithm developed by University of Arizona student Lujendra Ojha has discovered subtle changes on the surface on the pictures taken by the Martian Reconnaissance Orbiter. Results show that long grooves appear in several areas during the spring and summer, then disappear when colder seasons set in. According to estimates, these lines are anywhere from 1.6 to 16 feet wide.

Scientists say that the best explanation so far for this observation is the existence salty water freezing and unfreezing over time, creating these grooves on the surface. No liquid water has ever been found on Mars, despite the ice found on the poles.

NASA officials speculate that the kind of life form that can evolve on such a world must be able to adapt to this kind of seasonal flow. “If there are cold salty waters that never freeze, despite the cold frozen surrounding ground, then they simply remain active at all times, although at lower metabolic rates when the coldest temperatures occur. If the environment is one which it is liquid seasonally but pretty much freezes up solid at other times of the year, then that would have to be an organism that can go into a dormant state.”

Eyes are now turning to the 2016 ExoMars expedition which will go to the planet to search for trace gases and water. Scientists are hoping that forthcoming tests and space missions may shed more light on this phenomenon, and more importantly, provide definite answer to the age-old question of life on another world.

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