There’s a good chance Mars has liquid water

Researchers have long known that Mars has water on its surface in the form of ice, but now, after years and years of research, we might finally have the decisive clue that our planetary neighbor has liquid water on its surface. The key find was perchlorate – a substance that significantly lowers the freezing point, so that water doesn’t freeze into ice, but remains liquid and briny.

Image credits University of Copenhagen.

Image credits University of Copenhagen.

“We have discovered the substance calcium perchlorate in the soil and, under the right conditions, it absorbs water vapour from the atmosphere. Our measurements from the Curiosity rover’s weather monitoring station show that these conditions exist at night and just after sunrise in the winter,” explains Morten Bo Madsen, associate professor and head of the Mars Group at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Perchlorates are substances which can be produced naturally and are soluble in water. Basically, if you mix them with water, the freezing temperature of water significantly; in other words, it can get a lot colder without the water actually freezing – it becomes a sort of liquid brine. The situation on Mars is especially fit to accommodate this mixture, as researchers explain. This can also explain some of the water circulation on the Red Planet.

“When night falls, some of the water vapour in the atmosphere condenses on the planet surface as frost, but calcium perchlorate isvery absorbent and it forms a brine with the water, so the freezing point is lowered and the frost can turn into a liquid. The soil is porous, so what we are seeing is that the water seeps down through the soil. Over time, other salts may also dissolve in the soil and now that they are liquid, they can move and precipitate elsewhere under the surface,” Madsen adds.

The Curiosity Rover has previously found tantalizing clues that water once flowed on Mars. It is now believed that Mars kept its liquid water for millions of years – it also has the rounded rocks with the right chemistry to boast. But if there are indeed large quantities of perchlorate on the surface, it might mean that liquid water on Mars (or right below its surface) is much more common than previously thought.

Close-up observations have also shown characteristic of old riverbeds with rounded rocks, as well as expanses of sedimentary deposits, lying as ‘plates’ one above the other and leaning a bit toward Mount Sharp. The latter are very typical types of deposits, related to lake environments:

“These kind of deposits are formed when large amounts of water flow down the slopes of the crater and these streams of water meet the stagnant water in the form of a lake. When the stream meets the surface, the solid material carried by the stream falls down and is deposited in the lake just at the lakeshore. radually, a slightly inclined slope is built up just below the surface of the water and traces of such slanting deposits were found during the entire trip to Mount Sharp. Very fine-grained sediments, which slowly fell down through the water, were deposited right at the very bottom of the crater lake. The sediment plates on the bottom are level, so everything indicates that the entire Gale Crater may have been a large lake,” Madsen continues.

A long long time ago, some 4.5 billion years ago, Mars would have been a very different place than it is today – with a solid atmosphere and a lot of liquid water. But the atmosphere has dissipated into space, the water has also evaporated and escaped the planet and Mars no longer has a magnetic field.

So what does this mean for the possibility of finding life on Mars? Well, even though water is an essential requirement for life as we know it, water itself is not sufficient. Mars is really cold, and not protected from cosmic radiation (like Earth is), so finding life is not as likely as you’d be tempted to think. But it’s still a possibility.

One thought on “There’s a good chance Mars has liquid water

  1. Charles Weber

    I suspect that you will find a
    hypothesis interesting that the gullies and canyons of Mars are carved by
    rivers of silicone dust (or liquid) useful, as described in; http://charles_w.tripod.com/mars.html If this hypothesis is valid there must
    surely be vestiges of those ancient silicones still present in some of the
    sediments and maybe even in some of the soils. They may be the source of the
    methane detected in the Martian atmosphere. If any of the “sediment”
    particles are seen to float on water, it would be strong circumstantial
    evidence for silicone presence. It is also possible that there are remnants
    present in Meteorites from Mars. If you find any, please let me know.

    It is conceivable that residual
    silicone coatings making soil unstable to meteorite impact could account for
    the debris flows that have been described.

    I suspect that you will also
    find interesting a proposal of my son’s that huge meteorites cause a disruption
    on the opposite side of a planet. This proposal to explain the bulges and
    volcanoes on one side of Mars may be seen in
    http://www.geocities.com/d_c_weber/Mars/mars_vo2.pdf . To explain the Decca (or
    Deccan) lava flows on Earth, see http://charles_w.tripod.com/decca_traps.pdf . The antipode is out in the Indian Ocean. However seismic waves travel
    faster in the crust under the Pacific Ocean than under the Atlantic and under
    northern Africa so this is not proof that India has moved as the author
    suggests.

    Sincerely, Charles Weber

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