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Water on Mars: NASA Announces Water Does Flow on Mars (VIDEO)

First Posted: Sep 28, 2015 11:48 AM EDT
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NASA made an announcement on Monday morning about a huge discovery regarding its exploration of Mars, with a news conference that included Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Insitute of Technology; Mary Beth Wilhelm of NASA's Ames Research Center and the GIT; and Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment at the University of Arizona, according to USA Today.

Ojha, Wilhelm, and McEwen are all authors of a paper, published Monday, that details how NASA has found the first evidence of flowing water on Mars, which plays a role in sculpting mysterious dark streaks that often appear during Mars' summer months.

"When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water," Ojha said. "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."

This finding has implications for both potential life on the Red Planet, as well as human expeditions.

The discovery was reported Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, which helps clear up years of speculation and observations about recurring slope lineae, or RSL, that can appear in the summertime and be more than 300 feet long, yet disappear in Mars' winter.

RSL were first spotted in 2011 in the Martian southern highlands, but have been discovered in the equatorial region of the planet, especially within the deeper canyons.

Data was collected by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that allowed scientists to be able to detect the telltale chemical fingerprints of hydrated salts in dozens of RSL sites, according to Discovery News.

"That implies that there was liquid water there very recently to leave this residue of hydrated salts. It confirms that water is playing a role in these features," McEwen, planetary geologist, said.

Scientists have known for years that frozen water exists at Mars' poles, and in tiny puddles that form at night, on the surface. In March, NASA said Mars may have once had a Atlantic Ocean-like sea, but about 87 percent of its water was lost to space. But, the discovery of flowing water is one that came as a shock.

The water has a high salt content, without which it would freeze in Mars' incredibly cold temperatures.

Although scientists are not completely sure of its source, researchers say "it could be melting subsurface ice; it might result from salts widely believed to be in the Martian soil, pulling water out of the thin Martian atmosphere; or possibly liquid is bubbling up from an aquifer," according to CNN.

"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," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water - albeit briny - is flowing today on the surface of Mars."

NASA made an official announcement regarding the findings on Sept. 28 at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

"It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet," Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington, said. "It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future."

NASA released a statement about the announcement, saying, "NASA will detail a major science finding from the agency's ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Monday, Sept. 28 at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

NASA's constant live stream can be viewed here, on NASA TV.

The live feed of the announcement is streamed below (until the conference ends at 12:30 p.m.).

Don't worry, if you missed the announcement, NASA also highlighted the findings and the announcement in a couple tweets.

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