NASA Says Briny Liquid Water Flows on Mars

Posted on September 28, 2015

Dark streaks of briny flowing water on Mars on Hale Crater

NASA confirmed today that liquid water flows intermittently on present day Mars. They say the briny (salty) water flows appear in several locations on the Red Planet. New findings from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) helped NASA scientists reach the conclusion.

The image above shows dark, narrow streaks on the Hale Crater which are thought to be formed by the seasonal flow of water. A larger version of the image can be found here. The darkish streaks ebb and flow over time and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons. They appear when temperatures rise above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius). NASA shared this animation of the seasonal flows in Hale Crater. The streaks seen in the crater are about the size of a football field. The downhills flows are called recurring slope lineae (RSL).

John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, says in the announcement, "Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water,' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected. This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water -- albeit briny -- is flowing today on the surface of Mars."

A New York Times story about the announcement says NASA researchers identified signs of hydrated salt at four different locations. Flowing water has been found but scientists are not certain of its source. It could be coming from low humidity at the surface with the perchlorate salts absorbing moisture from the air. Another theory is that it is fed by underground aquifers.

Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology is the lead author of the research paper on the flowing water published here in the journal, Nature Geoscience. Ojha says, "When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water. Now we know there's more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL."

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona