Nasa Mars mystery press conference likely to announce that dark streaks on Mars are flowing water, papers indicate

Three of those speaking at Nasa’s press event are also authors on a major paper to be delivered at a conference this week

Andrew Griffin
Monday 28 September 2015 14:13
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NASA workers answer questions from the media and work on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in the Hazardous Payload Service Facility at the Kennedy Space Center July 20, 2005 in Cape Canaveral, Florida
NASA workers answer questions from the media and work on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in the Hazardous Payload Service Facility at the Kennedy Space Center July 20, 2005 in Cape Canaveral, Florida

Nasa’s huge press conference later is set to reveal that dark spots on the planet are caused by flowing water, documents reveal. The discovery could potentially have huge implications for the possibility of life on Mars.

The agency set off huge amounts of speculation when it released a cryptic press release this weekend with the title “NASA to Announce Mars Mystery Solved”. The release itself revealed very little about what was to happen, teasing only that it would “detail a major science finding from the agency’s ongoing exploration of Mars”.

But the agency also said who would speak at the event. That included Lujendra Ojha, a scientist who became famous when he spotted possible water on Mars as an undergraduate.

Ojha and two other people speaking at the event are also listed as authors of a paper due to be delivered this week, which is likely on the same topic as the findings that Nasa are set to reveal later. The paper has been shared widely on Reddit.

That paper gives evidence that there are Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) on Mars, which confirms a hypothesis that is flowing, briny water on Mars. RSL are seasonal flows of water on Mars that were proposed years ago, but the discovery of hydrated salts by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter confirms that hypothesis.

Water would be key to the possibility of life on Mars, the present day conditions on the planet mean that it would quickly evaporate or freeze. However, if the water was mixed with salts to become a brine it would be much less volatile, and so evaporate and freeze at more extreme temperatures.

Scientists have previously detected salts on the surface. But the new discovery is the first time that it has found evidence of hydrated salts, which confirm that the RSL are formed by running, briny water.

NASA Mars Announcement

The paper, titled ‘Spectral Evidence for Hydrated Salts in Seasonal Brine Flows on Mars’, is set to be delivered at the European Planetary Science Congress later this week. But it has already been published online.

Despite the discovery of the papers, Nasa’s press conference is still set to provide new detail on what exactly the new information means. Finding water on Mars could have a range of implications — from the likelihood of alien life there to the possibility of humans living on the planet — and Nasa is likely to explore all of those during the event.

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