Whitewater rafting on Mars? NASA has proof it may be possible

Contributed by
Dec 15, 2012

Start inflating that gold-foil-wrapped raft and break out the Buzz Lightyear kiddie canoes, because there may be water on Mars, and LOTS of it. Today, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena published a detailed press release of their latest astonishing findings on our red-flushed neighbor.

NASA's Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter has observed indications of sizable, seasonal salt-water flows on Mars, a definite sign that water may exist in liquid form during the Red Planet's more balmy seasons. Frozen water has been detected near Mars' surface, but these new results are the closest scientists have ever come to discovering evidence of water on the planet's actual surface.

So what are we really imagining here? Certainly not Niagara Falls churning down Everest-tall Martian peaks, but this is a significant volume of moisture emanating from the crimson rocky sands ... enough to at least float a small child's inner tube.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hailed the Mars Exploration Program for bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form, reaffirming Mars as an important future destination for human exploration.

Hey, just ask Hollywood's Douglas Quaid and John Carter. They're both crazy about traveling to Mars ... and packing their Speedos.

JPL described the analyzed data as follows:

"Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.

"Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth's oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures."

"These dark lineations are different from other types of features on Martian slopes," explained Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek. "Repeated observations show they extend ever farther downhill with time during the warm season."

Sounds like agua to us! The features imaged are only 0.5 to 5 yards wide, with lengths up to hundreds of yards. The width is much narrower than previously reported gullies on Martian slopes. Images show some of those locations displaying more than 1,000 individual flows. And while gullies are prevalent on cold, pole-facing slopes, these dark flows are on hotter, equator-facing slopes.

Apparently, salt deposits over much of Mars' crust indicates the fact that these brines were abundant in the planet's past. For now, much of this remains an interesting mystery, and NASA believes with more observation and experiments (and taxpayer funding), this liquid puzzle can be solved.

So before you invest in that new trillion-dollar Martian water park, let's see if this discovery sinks or swims. Ready to get wet?

(via NASA)

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