Or should I say: WAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTEEEERRRRR!!!!!!
Today NASA made the historic announcement that they have discovered evidence of liquid water on Mars, making our next door terrestrial planetary neighbor a little more likely to be sporting some livelier residents. It’s no assurance that life exists there, but it checks off another requirement for it. At the very least, this news is thrilling for the prospect of our future on the red planet. Fairly soon – and by that I mean in our lifetime – we could see more than just Matt Damon on Mars. The presence of the most precious molecule for life is extremely exciting for the development of colonies capable of sustaining humans and other organisms we bring along to become the first Earth residents to move to another planet.
Despite today’s big reveal, NASA has had their eyes trained on the Martian surface in search for water for quite a while. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the satellite that took the pictures that led to the discovery, was launched in 2005 with the primary mission to look for signs of water. After years of analysis, NASA scientists were confident they had seen enough to know what they were looking at. Apparently they deemed to bring it up in the wake of last night’s impressive perigree full moon, a.k.a. supermoon (when the moon is at its closest to the Earth; apogee is when it is at its farthest) that coincided with a total lunar eclipse for the first time since 1982 and the last time until 2033.
Much like the moon’s yo-yoing with Earth, Mars’ surface has some back and forth apparent on it. MRO sent images over the years that show streaks that darken and stretch along down slopes during the warm season, and dissipate during the colder season. These streaks are the strongest evidence of liquid water and are called recurring slope lineae (RSL). It’s assumed by NASA scientists that whatever water is flowing in the area examined is under the surface and pops up just enough to turn the dust a little darker when it’s warm out. Well, warmer, considering that the places these shady streaks have been noticed are routinely about -10°F/23°C. The salts in the soil – which are not your standard sodium chloride from the kitchen – lower the water’s freezing point, much in the same way as road salt does to help melt snow even when the temperature is below freezing. The salts in the ground that are reacting to Mars’ moisture are perchlorates, some of which are able to prevent the freezing in -94°F/-70°C. This is also cool to learn for our future on Mars as certain perchlorates can be used to make rocket fuel. Mars could not only be a permanent residence for humanity, but a springboard to visit other planets and even solar systems.
This is all a long way off yet for us to have developed dwellings and spaceports on Mars, but that makes it no less exciting. Besides, it will happen someday, and much of the early stages of it happening will be extraordinarily thrilling to see unfold. There will be risk, there will be high costs, and there will be failures and unforeseen hurdles along the way, but someday, sooner than you might imagine, there will be a man on Mars. At least then we will be able to definitively answer David Bowie’s question.
Thanks for reading! If you want to learn more about Mars and this exciting news you can read the NASA JPL article I used as a reference for this post found here. Be sure to check in on NASA’s website for more information on Mars and other otherworldly developments in the future. And be sure to check back here next week for more of anything and everything.
Happy birthday Samm!