Report: Signs of liquid water discovered on Mars
NASA image of Mars, with the giant canyon Valles Marineris extending across its surface. Scientists are expected to report next week that the canyon may have recently harbored liquid water
(CNN) -- Despite its cold and arid surface, Mars displays
signs of water springs possibly heated by volcanism, bolstering theories that simple life forms could have emerged on the red planet, according to reports.
Looking at images snapped by the Mars Global Surveyor
spacecraft, researchers have detected evidence of springs on
the surface, USA Today reported Wednesday. The discovery
focuses in part on the Valles Marineris region, a colossal canyon
that dominates the martian landscape.
Scientists think Mars' surface coursed with water billions of
years ago, based on evidence of liquid erosion and signs of
ancient channels and seas. But the water all but disappeared
as the planet cooled and its atmosphere thinned.
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Water is known to exist in the present as ice in the northern
ice cap and as vapor in faint clouds. But vast quantities could
remain trapped under the surface, according to planetary
Many theorize that such groundwater remains in a frozen
state. But the Surveyor images suggest that recent
underground volcanic forces have heated water into a liquid state,
according to a colleague of a Mars scientist who made the
"What was known before, there was evidence of volcanism
occurring in the recent past, say tens of millions of years
ago," said MIT planetary geologist Maria Zuber.
"This will be better than that," she said, declining to give
specifics. The report will be published in the June 29 issue of Science magazine.
Groundwater would likely turn into vapor or ice soon after
it reached the surface. But the presence of hot springs could strengthen the theory that life exists, or once existed, on Mars.
Some unusual forms of microscopic life flourish near hot
springs in the recesses of the Earth. Similar springs on Mars
might harbor life as well, some scientists speculate.
"This is incredibly exciting. What this means is that we have
a chance to find ... extant life," Mars Society president
Robert Zubrin said.
NASA officials would not comment on the report, but the agency plans to make a major science announcement the day Science publishes the Mars paper.
Liquid water may have recently flowed through deep craters and canyons on Mars, like this one in the Noachis Terra area
Michael Carr, an expert on martian hydrology, co-authored the
report with fellow U.S. Geological Survey scientist Baerbel
Lucchita, who has researched Antarctic ice flows and mapped
the Valles Marineris, said NASA Watch, quoting unnamed NASA
NASA Watch, an independent Web site that monitors the space agency, first reported news of the Mars discovery earlier this
The diverse terrain of the Valles Marineris displays many
types of landforms as it snakes across Mars for more than
3,700 miles (6,000 km): volcanic deposits, ancient sea
sediment and windblown rock avalanches.
The canyon descends well below the usual surface level of
Mars. And scientists have searched the low recesses of Mars in the past for signs of water.
The Surveyor took other photos of deep craters thought to
show evidence of past water seepage. One 1997 image of the
southern Noachis Terra region reveals crater wall depressions
possibly left by leaking groundwater, according to Malin
Space Sciences, which operates the Surveyor camera.
Liquid water on Mars would make colonization of the planet
much easier. Colonists could convert water into hydrogen and
oxygen, using both as rocket fuel and the second for
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Mars Global Surveyor
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Mars Society
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