Scientists have found the first evidence that briny water may flow on the surface of Mars during the planet's summer months, a paper published on Monday showed. Although the source and the chemistry of the water is unknown, the discovery affects opinions about whether the planet could support life.
The discovery "confirms that water is playing a role" on Mars, said Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist with Arizona State University. "We don't know that it's coming from the subsurface. It could come from the atmosphere.”
Whatever its source, the prospect of liquid water, even seasonally, raises the intriguing prospect that Mars, which is presumed to be a cold and dead planet, could support life today.
More information about the water's chemistry, however, would be needed before scientists could assess its role in possibly sustaining life on Mars, according to McEwen. "It's not necessarily habitable just because it's water – at least to terrestrial organisms," he said.
NASA's ongoing Mars rover Curiosity has found evidence that Mars had all the ingredients and suitable habitats for microbial life to exist at some point in its past. Scientists have been trying to figure out how it transformed from a warm, wet and likely Earth-like planet early in its history into the cold, dry desert that exists today.
NASA, which declared "Mars mystery solved" in a press advisory, has scheduled a news conference on Monday to further discuss the findings.