CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — From gazing at the supermoon, to talk of water on Mars, it’s a celestial celebration for the Tri-State!
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Mars appears to have flowing streams of salty water, at least in the summer, scientists reported Monday in a finding that could have major implications for the possibility of life on the planet.
Scientists in 2008 confirmed the existence of frozen water on Mars. But the latest observations from an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter strongly support the longtime theory that salt water in liquid form flows down certain Martian slopes each summer, according to the researchers.
“Mars just got more interesting,” NASA said via Twitter before holding a news conference at its Washington headquarters. The space agency called the results “a major science finding.”
As CBS2’s Scott Rapoport reported, the news from Mars is as extraordinary as it is universally significant.
“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science said.
The implications of the discovery have scientists salivating over two perpetually burning questions; was there ever life on Mars, and could there be life there now?
“We haven’t been able to answer the question, does life exist beyond earth? But following the water is a critical element of that,” Green said.
The researchers said in the journal Nature Geoscience that further exploration is warranted to determine whether any microscopic life exists on the planet.
“If we can actually determine whether life once existed on Mars, or currently exists, then maybe life is endemic everywhere in the universe,” astronomy expert, Jason Kendall said.
The evidence of flowing streams consists of dark, narrow streaks on the surface that tend to appear and grow during the warmest Martian months and fade the rest of the year.
Mars is extremely cold even in summer, and the streaks are in places where the temperature has climbed above minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit. But salt can lower the freezing point of water and melt ice.
The source of the water is still a mystery. Scientists noted it could be melting ice, an underground aquifer, water vapor from the thin Martian atmosphere, or some combination.
At the Rose Planetarium, the news was greeted with excitement among space lovers and astronomy buffs.
“It would be amazing to find life, potentially find life so close to earth,” David Lee said.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has been circling the red planet since 2006.
The lead author of the research paper, Lujendra Ojha, is from Georgia Institute of Technology.
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