A sequence of new photographs released by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show evidence of flowing, liquid water on the mountains of the Red Planet.
According to the report published in the journal Science, the images show long, dark “tendrils” a few meters wide, the BBC reported.
The flowing water can be seen between rocky outcrops flowing hundreds of meters down steep slopes towards the plains below.
Since the tendrils appear on hillsides warmed by the summer sun and fade away during winter, scientists believe they are made of thawing mud.
“It’s hard to imagine they are formed by anything other than fluid seeping down slopes,” said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“The best explanation we have for these observations so far is flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that,” said planetary geologist and lead author Professor Alfred McEwen of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona.
Since salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes, water about as salty as Earth’s oceans could exist at these sites in summer.
“This could be the first flowing water,” said Professor McEwen.
According to Dr. Lewis Dartnell of the University College London, “liquid water is absolutely essential for life, and we’ve found life on Earth in pretty much every moist niche.”
“So perhaps there could be hardy microbes surviving in these short periods of summer meltwater on the desert surface of Mars,” he added.
Professor Shiladitya DasSarma of the University of Maryland agreed with Dr. Dartnell saying that the results “are consistent with the presence of large and extensive underground salty lakes on Mars.”
“This is an exciting possibility for those of us studying salt-loving (halophilic) micro-organisms here on Earth, since it opens the possibility that these kinds of hearty bugs may also inhabit our neighboring planet,” he said.
“Halophilic microbes are champions at withstanding the most punishing conditions, complete desiccation and ionizing (space) radiation.”
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