It’s official, after a week of rumors: NASA is confirming that there is probably water on Mars. So how do they know this… and why is it such a big deal?
I’m of the understanding that Mars is a terrifying lifeless hellhole fit only for Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox.
And you wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. Mars is inhospitable to life. But if it’s got water, it’s slightly more hospitable than we thought.
How’d they prove this?
“Prove” is a strong word; NASA isn’t saying they’ve proven this, just that it’s very, very likely. But there’s a lot of evidence for water on Mars, as it turns out. There are “recurrent slope lineae,” which is a fancy scientific term for “channels water carves out of hills when it flows down them.” And they’re reappearing seasonally, which reinforces the idea that it’s water causing this. If that weren’t enough, spectroscopic analysis has found hydrated salts in these channels. That’s important not least because salts lower the freezing point of water, which would keep it liquid on the surface of Mars.
What does this mean for finding aliens on Mars?
Herein lies why this is such a big deal. We know Mars has water and has had it for millennia, the problem was that it was all ice. Mars isn’t supposed to have liquid water; its atmospheric pressure isn’t high enough and the surface of Mars is freezing. This implies there’s a possibility of more liquid water under the surface, and there are certain types of life that can live even in extreme salinity environments.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re talking, like, space yeast. But it’s still pretty cool, and if we can find and analyze this life, that might tell us more both about Mars’ past and how it became the desolate rock it is today.
What does this mean for moving to Mars?
Not much; we’re talking incredibly salty water here. That would have to be filtered and processed into fresh water for humans to drink. There are easier ways to make potable water. But it does increase the urgency of getting our asses to Mars and digging around.
When’s that happening?
If all goes according to plan, sometime in the 2030s. Get your Matt Damon jokes ready now.