In what I assure you is not stealth marketing for The Martian, NASA has announced a major scientific breakthrough about Mars. There is liquid water on the red planet. The evidence of flowing water on the surface — seen as narrow streaks that roll down the sides of cliffs in summer — raises the possibility of Mars being a habitable environment. In other words, the chances of finding life there just increased dramatically. “The water flows could point NASA and other space agencies towards the most promising sites to find life on Mars, and to landing spots for future human missions where water can be collected from a natural supply,” reports the Guardian.
What is not known right now is where the water originates. It could be from underground deposits of frozen salt water, or it might be that salt on the surface absorbs moisture from the atmosphere until there is enough volume to roll downhill (similar conditions in deserts on Earth have allowed microbes to thrive.) Either way, the news is significant.The traditional view of Mars is of a cold, desert-like planet: a place that once had surface water but that has long been dry. The discovery of liquid flowing water means that scientists will have to revise their view. A watery spot would be a favorable landing place for a future human mission, but that presents its own problems. NASA and other space agencies are “required to do their utmost to avoid contaminating other planets with microbes from Earth, making wet areas the most difficult to visit,” writes the Guardian.