Water on Mars: So What? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Water on Mars: So What?

Sci&Tech editor, Rachel Taylor, explains what's so exciting about the recent discovery of liquid water on Mars.

Last week, NASA announced one of the greatest scientific discoveries: liquid water flows on Mars!

What’s so great about this news?

Well, it could mean that Mars has the capability to support life. On Earth, wherever there is water, there is some form of life: even in the smallest of puddles, microscopic creatures can survive!

So we may not be alone after all then?

Far from it, there are millions of planets out there, and there is a high likelihood that some of those will have some form of life. It’s not even just about other life, it’s the possibility that we could one day send people to live on Mars, and with water they could survive for a long time without assistance.

I thought we already kind of knew there would be water?

There have been many theories; it’s just about finding concrete evidence for this. Michael Myer, NASA’s lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Programme explains, “It took multiple spacecraft several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet...it seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”

How did they find this out?
They produced images of seasonal fluctuations by the slopes on the Hale Crater on Mars by making a 3D digital terrain map from data captured by the Mars Renaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Oh cool, so when do they get to see what else is in the water?

Never, sorry, but the Mars rover can not collect water samples as it is illegal under international law. During the space race in 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was created, which states that nothing from Earth can come into contact with an outside water source. It’s all about contamination. Microbes from Earth could attach themselves to a robot and infect any life found, possibly killing it.

So, we can never know if there is life on other planets?

Not exactly. We have not yet figured out a way to guarantee that the machines sent out there are 100% sterile. We can get close, and maybe future robots created will have the capability to withstand high sterilisation heat without being damaged.

When are we likely to know the compounds in the water for sure?

According to NASA and other leading space scientists, it is unlikely that we’ll be able to send any machinery with that capability until 2030. But the news is still cool and we should celebrate the victory of all the hardworking scientists out there!

Sci & Tech Editor. Biological Sciences student. Keenly interested in the subjects of plant sciences and genetics. (@Rachel_Taylor95)


9th October 2015 at 10:03 am

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