This is big news for all Mars enthusiasts and everyone else. Strong evidence of flowing water has been seen on Mars by the Orbiter, which has been deputed to scan the Martian surface. This is bigger than the discovery of frozen ice-caps. Flowing water supports life on Earth and could have done so on Mars too.
The water - if it is water - appears to be extremely salty and is running inside narrow channels along the inner walls of a small crater called Newton that lies in the planet's southern hemisphere.
The new evidence comes from extremely high-resolution images taken by..
a powerful camera called HiRISE aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the planet for five years.
Rapid successions of images sent by the orbiter show long dark streaks somewhat like fingers starting late every Martian spring at rocky outcrops inside the crater's walls facing the planet's equator. The dark features run within narrow channels called lineae - 18 inches to 15 feet wide - for hundreds of yards. They lengthen at up to 60 feet a day during full summer until they fade away in the winter.
The HiRISE scientists have detected as many 1,000 of the possible watercourses at 39 separate sites, they say.
"This is the most compelling evidence yet for liquid water on Mars; it's not proof, but it's compelling," said Scott Murchie, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and a scientist on the orbiter team.
"It's the best evidence of water flowing on Mars to date," said Philip Christensen of Arizona State University, who led a team gathering images transmitted by an earlier orbiter called Mars Global Surveyor that operated for a decade until its transmissions ended five years ago.
|This extremely high-resolution image from a NASA camera on board a Mars orbiter shows many channels on the slopes of a crater that scientists believe offer evidence very salty water is flowing on the Red Planet.|
"We haven't found any good way to explain what we're seeing without water," said lead author Alfred McEwan of the University of Arizona during a press briefing Thursday.
A lower-resolution instrument aboard the orbiter called CRISM - Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars - so far has not seen any sign of what the HiRISE team is reporting, said Murchie.
There has already been overwhelming evidence that water was abundant on Mars millions of years ago. One sign is the deep Martian canyons that only water could have carved; another is the broad and sinuous surface webs that could only have been river beds once upon a time.
The Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit have identified all kinds of chemicals in rocks and rounded pebbles on the planet's surface that on Earth are only formed in water.
The Orbiter scientists reason that any water on Mars today must be extremely salty - a kind of brine - because normal water would freeze solid permanently at Martian winter temperatures.
But salts can lower the freezing point of water so brines remain liquid even at the lowest temperatures recorded during Martian winters. There are plenty of salts like chlorides and sulfates in rocks and sandy plains all over the planet's surface.