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Liquid Water, Probably Very Salty, Found Flowing on Mars


Scientists have confirmed by observations from the Mars Orbiter, which has been taking close-up pictures of Mars for several years, that streaks of flowing water have been found in several places.  Thousands of dark streaks that appear to lighten over periods of days have been seen.  They are almost certainly water with high concentrations of perchlorates, which keep the water from freezing.  It is very unlikely that anything could live in such salty water, but it appears that there is a great deal of underground water that is likely to be more pure and thus capable of supporting life.  It looks as if there are large reserves of ice under the surface, which could easily melt under certain circumstances and provide a habitat for Earth-like micro-organisms.

Unfortunately, while the Mars Rover is on the ground only a few miles from one of these sets of streaks, scientists are reluctant to approach it because the Rover was not completely sterilized before leaving Earth.  Some have suggested that after several years on the surface of Mars, with its harsh ultraviolet illumination because of the thin atmosphere, the vehicle may be sterile enough to avoid contamination.  The only question is whether the Rover can survive another two years, long enough to reach the streaks.  If it can approach a streak, the laser photometer on it that is specifically designed to vaporize samples and measure their spectra can shine on the streaks and directly test their water content.

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