Researchers working with NASA have detected signs of water on the surface of Mars. The discovery, which stems from photos taken by a high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, strongly suggests that Mars has liquid water even in the present day. This is huge news for space agencies worldwide, and could make it easier to look for signs of life on the red planet.
“There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars,” Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, told The Guardian. “Because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today.”
A team led by Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, published its findings in Nature Geoscience. Using a spectrometer on the Mars Orbiter, Ojha and his team found infrared signatures on steep rock walls that could only have been created by recent exposure to surface water. For the signatures to show up, that exposure would have to have been within several days of the spectrometer reading.
Ojha discovered early indications of Martian surface water–which led to the spectrometer readings–while still in college.
Finding water on the surface of Mars brings us yet another step closer to figuring out whether the planet could be habitable. Fast Company recently spoke with NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan, who talked about how the agency plans to send a manned spacecraft to Mars by 2035, and what it could mean to find life on the planet.
“We may find that life did evolve on Mars, and there’s a chance life evolved on Jupiter’s moon Europa,” she told Fast Company. “If we find that life is present in our solar system, we’re going to try to understand its implications for humans. How much is it like life on Earth? Does it have RNA and DNA? It’s going to be mind-blowing.”