Wednesday, December 06, 2006

NASA images suggest liquid water present on Mars

Striking images taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft suggest the presence of liquid water on the Martian surface, a tantalizing find for scientists wondering if the Red Planet might harbor life.

The orbiting U.S. spacecraft enabled scientists to detect changes in the walls of two craters in the southern hemisphere of Mars apparently caused by the downhill flow of water in the past few years, a team of scientists announced on Wednesday.

Scientists long have wondered whether life ever existed on Mars. Liquid water is an important part of the equation. On Earth, all forms of life require water to survive. Scientists previously established the existence of war on Mars in the form of ice at the poles and water vapor, and pointed to geological features that appear to have been carved by water ages ago.

Kenneth Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, a scientist involved in the research, said there had been a quest for "smoking gun" evidence for liquid water currently on Mars.

"Basically, this is the 'squirting gun' for water on Mars," Edgett told reporters.

The scientists, whose research appears in the journal Science, compared images of the Martian surface taken seven years apart and also found 20 newly formed craters left by impacts from space debris.

They said water seemed to have flowed down two gullies in the past few years, even though liquid water cannot remain long on the planet's frigid, nearly airless surface because it would rapidly freeze or evaporate.

Source: Reuters

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