Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter
In interview after interview, NASA scientists planning missions to Mars talk about the search for past and present water on Mars. So why is water on Mars so important? Of course, it’s kind of interesting, geologically speaking, but it’s a key step in the search for life on Mars.
Here on Earth, scientists are finding that life can adapt to almost any environment – as long as there’s water. Down at the bottom of the ocean, inside nuclear reactors, and deep inside the Earth at temperatures that would boil water. Wherever there’s water on Earth, scientists have found life.
The thinking goes that if there’s liquid water on Mars, there might be life there too.
There are many examples of how water might have acted on the surface of Mars billion of years ago. Orbiting spacecraft have seen ancient stream beds, and maybe even the shores of long dead oceans. More recently, NASA’s Mars Odyssey space craft detected enormous amounts of water in the form of ice, underneath the surface of Mars.
NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers have been crawling across the surface of Mars, searching for past evidence of water on Mars. And in the last few years, they’ve found example after example that liquid water was on the surface of Mars for long periods of time. And if there was liquid water, there’s a better possibility that there was life too.
NASA’s Phoenix Lander has landed at the north pole of Mars, where the ice deposits are just beneath the surface of the Martian soil. It’s equipped with a shovel that will let it scoop up and analyze samples of the soil and ice. It should be able to detect evidence of past or current microbial life.
So the search for water on Mars is really about the search for life; in the ancient past, and if we’re really lucky, there might be life there today.
Finally, if you’d like to learn more about Mars in general, we have done several podcast episodes about the Red Planet at Astronomy Cast. Episode 52: Mars, and Episode 91: The Search for Water on Mars.