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NASA unveils evidence of liquid water on Mars

gullies
The appearance of these gullies in the Gorgonum Chaos region of Mars suggest that liquid water has seeped out of the surface recently  

June 22, 2000
Web posted at: 11:39 a.m. EDT (1449 GMT)


In this story:

Water mostly in the south?

'Chance to find extant life'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- NASA scientists on Thursday revealed images of gullies, channels and deltas on Mars, which they said indicate the presence of liquid water near the surface of the red planet and have "profound implications for the prospect of of life" there.

Looking at close-up images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor Spacecraft, planetary geologists have found signs of water activity in numerous places, sources said.

Some of the water flow or seepage could have taken place as recently as several days or thousands of years ago, a senior NASA scientist said.

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A team of Mars researchers, including principal investigators Michael Malin and Ken Edgett, discussed the discovery at a NASA news conference beginning at 11 a.m. EDT.

Their findings will be published in Science magazine on June 30, but the journal posted the report on the Web an hour before the NASA media event.

Water mostly in the south?

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 thinned.

Water is known to exist today as ice in the northern polar cap and as vapor in faint clouds. But vast quantities could remain trapped under the surface, according to planetary geologists.

Many theorize that such groundwater remains in a frozen state. But the Surveyor images suggest that at least some it near the surface entered a liquid state, in particular in the southern region of the planet, according to the Science report.

Canyon
Water may have once been abundant on Mars, then disappeared as the planet cooled and its atmosphere thinned  

'Chance to find extant life'

Groundwater would likely turn into vapor or ice soon after it bubbled to the surface. But the presence of liquid water could strengthen the theory that life exists or once existed on Mars.

"This is incredibly exciting. What this means is that we have a chance to find ... extant life," Mars Society president Robert Zubrin said.

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 breathing gas.

The Surveyor has taken photos of deep craters thought to show evidence of 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.

Correspondent Miles O'Brien contributed to this report.




RELATED STORIES:
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Mars lander eludes searchers on Earth
February 8, 2000

RELATED SITES:
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Mars Global Surveyor
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The Mars Society
Mars Explorer for the Armchair Astronaut

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