Monday, September 28, 2015

The waters of Mars

I was having a discussion about space a little while back.

Someone was telling me that aliens were coming here for our water. I responded that water is actually rather plentiful throughout space, especially in the form of ice. "But not salt water," the person responded. Actually, I mused, the elements of salt water would have to be more plentiful than what we would term "fresh water" here on Earth, making our planet not necessarily all that attractive for the wayworn space traveler.

Now we know that said same salt water exists on Mars. In liquid form, no less.

Just today, NASA announced findings that liquid water still flows on Mars. This was determined by looking at dark streaks in the Martian landscape and higher elevations. Astronomers noticed that these streaks were seasonal. By testing the wavelengths of sunlight returned from the dark areas, it was found that these areas absorb specific wavelengths associated with chemicals in water. The water in question is, as mentioned earlier, quite salty. It needs to be in order to stay in liquid form within Mars' icy surface temperatures.

Where exactly the water is coming from is the still the subject of much conjecture. It may be from melting ice...especially likely if the water flows are seasonal and recurring...and maybe even from underground aquifers. Of course there is another natural question that is drawing even more conjecture: is there life on Mars? The pat equation for us humans has always been "where there is water, there is life." Not so fast. We're along way from verifying anything like that. But there is hope.

"The existence of liquid water, even if it is super salty briny water, gives the possibility that if there's life on Mars, that we have a way to describe how it might survive," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.

While this has been suspected for a long time, it's still a big deal to find solid evidence confirming those suspicions. In fact, it's been a real bonanza of space science in the past two days. Last night was, of course, the supermoon/eclipse/bloodmoon-palooza. Yes, just as in the song by U2, the "Moon turned red over One Tree Hill." I assume it did, anyway. The Moon was red all over the world, of course. This is due to sunlight filtering through the Earth's atmosphere before it hits the surface of the Moon. It was quite a thing to behold and I wish I could have gotten decent pics of it. A marvel, really. In a coincidental fashion, the Moon even resembled the planet Mars in hue there for a very brief time. I understood how ancient peoples would have freaked out over it.

Actually, I was sort of hoping a wide swath of Christian fundamentalists would have taken it as a sign of Armageddon and just stayed in their churches. And stayed. And stayed.

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