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NASA unveils visual evidence of martian water
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The appearance of these gullies in the Gorgonum Chaos region of Mars suggest that liquid water has seeped out of the surface recently
(CNN) -- NASA scientists on Thursday revealed images of gullies, channels and deltas on Mars that they say indicate the presence of liquid water near the surface of the red planet and have "profound implications for the prospect of life" there.
Looking at high-resolution images from the Mars Global
Surveyor Spacecraft, planetary geologists detected signs of
recent water activity in numerous locations, according to a
report on the discovery in Science magazine.
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"It might have been a thousand years ago, a million years
ago, perhaps even yesterday," NASA Associate Administrator Ed
Weiler told reporters.
Principal investigators Michael Malin and Ken Edgett
published their findings online in Science and discussed
their findings with reporters Thursday.
The duo found signs of groundwater seepage and surface runoff
in hundreds of locations, mostly in high latitudes and in
the southern hemisphere. The sites include gullies and
alluvial fans within the walls of pits, valleys and impact
More than 90 percent of the features occur south of the
equator and most occur on pole-facing slopes.
'Surprised and confused'
"We were quite surprised and confused by it. It didn't fit
our model of what Mars is like," said Malin of the Surveyor
data. Malin Space Sciences operates a camera onboard the NASA
satellite, which has orbited Mars since 1997.
Scientists have long thought 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
Water is known to exist today as ice in the northern polar
cap and as vapor in faint clouds. Groundwater would likely
turn into vapor or ice soon after it bubbled to the surface.
'Possibility of life on Mars'
Water may have once been abundant on Mars, then disappeared as the planet cooled and its atmosphere thinned
But the presence of liquid water near the surface could
strengthen the theory that life exists or once existed on
"If these results prove true, that there is water on Mars
near the surface, it has profound implications of the
possibility of life on Mars," Weiler said.
Low-flying airplanes or robotic balloons could make closer observations of the seepage features, suggested U.S. Geological Survey scientist Kenneth Tanaka in Science.
Liquid water on Mars would also make travel to the planet
easier. Astronauts could convert water into hydrogen and
oxygen, using both as rocket fuel and the second for
NASA last tried to search for water on the red planet in
1999. The doomed Mars Polar Lander was to dig beneath the
surface and study the atmosphere to look for signs of the
liquid. But the robot ship went silent as it entered the atmosphere
of the red planet on December 3.
NASA plans to launch an orbiter in 2001 to examine the seepage sites for evidence of water-related minerals. The agency is also considering two other unmanned missions to Mars in 2003.
Correspondent Miles O'Brien contributed to this report.
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Mars Global Surveyor
Malin Space Science Systems
The Mars Society
Mars Explorer for the Armchair Astronaut
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