Water on Mars

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Scientists have sent a robotic rover named Curiosity to Mars in 2012. It is fitted with cameras, as well as a laboratory within it, allowing it to carry out some analysis of soil and rocks found on the surface of Mars. Scientists were already aware that Mars had water on its surface, thanks to strong evidence collected through images that showed rocks and pebbles that looked rounded off by water. However, some years ago, it was believed there was no water on the surface of Mars and that it was a very dry planet, recent images have shown that water could indeed exist on Mars.

Now, do not run off to pack your suitcase for a space adventure just yet! While water was indeed discovered, it is not exactly in the form we know; it is more of a brine than liquid water, and much research has yet to be carried out to fully understand the situation on Mars’ surface.

So what do we know so far? Well, the water found is believed to have formed through a process known as deliquescence. This process entails a substance absorbing the moisture from its atmosphere and turning into a solution. This occurs in salts; if the air has enough humidity, the salts will absorb the humidity and turn into a brine.

So how did this occur on Mars? In 2011, pictures showing what appeared like dark stains of running streams on some parts of Mars were suspected to be images of streams of water. These long streams ran down Martian terrain during summer; once autumn and winter come, and temperatures become cooler, they fade away, meaning that they dry up. Scientists called this phenomenon “Recurring Slope Lineae” or RSL.

In the areas where the RSL were found, hydrated salts were detected via infrared signatures; these hydrated salts are a combination of chlorates and perchlorates, which are quite toxic. However, they are extremely hydroscopic, meaning that they are highly effective in attracting and retaining water from their environment. This was a clue to scientists that water has a high possibility of existing there. However, this water is extremely salty that the possibility of it being a life-giving source is very low, but it would serve as a starting point for research about life on Mars.

While there were many speculations as to how water was formed, the deliquescence theory seems the most probable. However, more research is required before this can be confirmed beyond a doubt. While Curiosity can assist with the research effort by taking close-up pictures of the RSL, it cannot get too close to these areas. This is because the slopes are too steep for Curiosity to ascend, and also scientists do not want to risk the chance of having any microbes that might have travelled with Curiosity from Earth contaminate the area. 

More rovers are being created in order to be sent to Mars to continue our explorations, and any future rovers will have to go through very thorough sterilization before it can get any closer to the RSL on Mars.

Interested to learn more about the discovery of watery brine? Check out this video:

Also check this one out:

References

www.theguardian.com
news.nationalgeographic.com
www.theguardian.com
www.space.com
www.nasa.gov

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