Following the discovery of evidence of flowing water on Mars earlier this week, NASA scientists are seriously considering what the finding means for the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter continues to update researchers with the latest measurements of the chemical composition of the Martian surface. In addition, this was the craft that captured the beds created by flowing water running down the mountainsides on the planet during its warmer months.
De Souza believes that the water likely came from Mars’ atmosphere. He thinks it condensed and fell to the ground, forming tiny streams, which merge and ultimately become the large rivers toward the bottom of the ridge.
Despite the thrilling discovery of evidence of liquid water on Mars, researchers remain wary of taking this as confirmation that Mars is completely habitable. One of the biggest worries faced by researchers is that microbes from Earth could have stowed away on one of the rovers, setting up a colonial population and possibly creating false positives for researchers examining local microbes.
Still, research missions will continue to scan rock samples for fossilized microbes trace the flow of water on the Martian surface. As NASA and other space agencies angle to put a man on the surface of the Red Planet in the next two to three decades, they remain cautious about some of the risks that a complex organism like a human would face.
The temperature on Mars typically dips below negative 80 degrees Celsius every night, and winds on the surface can reach up to 400 km/h. Astronauts would also face a bombardment of radiation coming from outer space that would change their DNA. It may be some time before we know for sure what life actually looks like on Mars if it is in fact there, but scientists are working tirelessly to find out.