Mars Has Flowing Water – Why Does It Matter?


Long narrow streaks containing perchlorates. Image attributed to NASA.

During a news conference this Monday, September 28th, NASA announced the discovery of liquid water flowing on the surface of Mars. After developing new chemical analysis techniques, researchers have officially identified perchlorates, a type of water saturated molecule, in streaks descending along slopes on the planet. The discovery comes on the heels of other revelations about the planet including the confirmations that Mars had rivers and lakes billions of years ago and that Mars has sizable polar ice caps.

So what makes this recent news about Mars so special?

Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life, so its presence means that there could be niches of habitability on Mars for microbes. Meaning there’s a possibility that Mars has basic alien life. The scientific community is excited for the new discovery because this raises the possibility that in just a few years humans can confirm the age-old question of whether or not life exists outside of earth.

Why will it take a few years?

The only spacecraft sent to Mars that have been sterilized are the 1976 Viking Landers. Sterilization is critical because microbes on Earth could attach to the spacecraft and contaminate Mars. NASA’s next spacecraft, planned to launch in 2020, will also not be sufficiently sterile so the agency is ruling out landing sites near the newly discovered habitable zones; however, NASA is considering using Curiosity to explore the zones due to the lower contamination threat of using a space-craft that has been subjected to the radiation and ultraviolet light of space.

In conclusion, the new NASA discovery has the potential to bring us astonishingly close to answering the ultimate question: are we alone?

For more information on the source of the water, the new analysis techniques, and more, you can read the official press release here: