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Why Salt Might Be the Key to Life on Mars
Why Are We Obsessed With Mars?
Almost exactly two years ago, NASA announced that their plucky rover Curiosity had found water on the Red Planet, so what's the big deal about the fact that they've found salty water this time?
When water was first confirmed to be on Mars 24 months ago, we knew there was enough to cover the entire planet with 115 feet (35 meters) of it. But scientists thought that all the water was frozen in the planet's polar ice caps. According to an article published in the astronomy journal Icarus right after the initial discovery was made, "Some liquid water may occur transiently on the Martian surface today but only under certain conditions." The report went on to speculate that there were experimental indications there could be water in seasonal melts on Martian slopes. The newest discovery confirms what this report had been speculating about. A paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, announced that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found signs that water may flow intermittently on present-day Mars, showing, yet again, that while science may move slowly, it bends toward the truth. The water in question is very salty: technically, it's hydrated perchlorate. Saltwater solutions have a lower freezing point than pure water, so this briny fluid can flow on Mars despite temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 degrees Celsius).
Life on Earth began in the oceans, so salty water gives us another reason to think there is life on Mars. Pure water would freeze, and that would kill any life present. Water this salty is highly toxic to humans, but not all life. NewScientist reminded readers about the microbes living in the Atacama desert, which absorb moisture from what is the driest atmosphere on Earth. According to a 2012 study, Mars may have had a life-sustaining ocean 3.5 billion years ago, which may have covered as much as 38 percent of the planet. Mars' low gravity and thin atmosphere allowed the water to slowly escape into space since...leaving the highly concentrated solution found today. Regardless, water is a huge win for scientists searching for life on Mars, and, well, pretty darn cool if you think about it.
Briny Water May Pool in Mars' Equatorial Soil (Discovery News)
"Mars may be a frigid desert, but perchlorate salts in the planet's soil are lowering the freezing temperature of water, setting up conditions for liquid brines to form at equatorial regions, new research from NASA's Curiosity rover shows."