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Life Begins with Water: Life on Mars
Scientists at NASA have been diligently searching for signs of life outside of Earth; while NASA has yet to find actual life on other planets they have discovered signs of liquid water on Mars. NASA has known for a while now that there was water on Mars; however, previously the only know water was frozen solid in polar ice caps (Chang, 2015). The curiosity rover, sent to Mars by NASA, has discovered hydrated salt crystals on the slopes of Mars; these hydrated salt crystals are “a chemical compound containing water that is chemically combined with a substance and can usually be expelled without changing the constitution of the substance” (Collins English Dictionary, 2015).
These hydrated salt crystals prove that there is, in fact, liquid water on Mars because the hydrated salt crystals absorb the water vapor in the Martian atmosphere (Connor, 2015). Liquid water was discovered running down the ridges of canyons and crater walls during the planet’s summer months near hydrated salt crystals; the water left behind visible dark streaks on the slopes. These lines have been named recurring slope lineae or RSL (Sample, 2015). The combinations of both the hydrated salt crystals and the recurring slope lineae are proof that there is liquid water on Mars. However, NASA scientists have yet to get the curiosity rover close enough to the water to take samples.
The curiosity rover has not been allowed to take samples from the recurring slope lineae or the hydrated salt crystals for water analysis because of possible contamination. The curiosity rover was not sanitized for a life-detection mission. In order for a rover to be allowed to take samples from water there has to be no chance of possible contamination from Earth spores. To ensure this, rovers on life-detection missions are sanitized and cooked in a massive oven in order to kill any bacterial spores on the rover (Palca, 2015). The curiosity rover was only a category IVb rover, meaning that some bacterial spores are alright, as long as the rover stays clear of any areas where water may be present (Palca, 2015). The reason all rovers are not all sanitized for life-detection missions is the need to equip the rover with equipment that can survive the extreme heat necessary to kill any bacterial spores and this adds significantly to the cost of the mission (Palca, 2015).
Currently the NASA team assigned to the curiosity rover hopes to get within 20 meters of one of the recurring slope lineae so that they can scan it with the lasers on the curiosity. In the meantime, NASA is considering landing sites for a rover cleared for life-detection mission to be deployed to Mars for in-depth water scans. The hope is a rover on a life-detection mission can find signs of life on Mars since there is confirmed liquid water.
Chang, K. (2015, September 28). Mars Shows Signs of Having Flowing Water, Possible Niches for Life, NASA Says. Retrieved September 30, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/science/space/mars-life-liquid-water.html?_r=0
Collins English Dictionary. (n.d.). Hydrated Salt. Retrieved September 30, 2015, from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Hydrate salt
Connor, S. (2015, September 28). Hydrated salts: How Nasa discovered flowing water on Mars – and what it means. Retrieved September 30, 2015, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/hydrated-salts-how-nasa-discovered-flowing-water-on-mars-and-what-it-means-a6670551.html
Palca, J. (2015, September 29). Why NASA Didn't Just Send Over A Rover To Look For Water On Mars. Retrieved September 30, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/29/444464174/why-nasa-didnt-just-send-over-a-rover-to-look-for-water-on-mars
Nasa scientists find evidence of flowing water on Mars (I. Sample, Trans.). (2015, September 28). Retrieved September 30, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/28/nasa-scientists-find-evidence-flowing-water-mars