Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Liquid lakes on Mars

So we all know that salt water in liquid form was found on Mars.

Could it pool in liquid lakes? For any extended period of time? That's another matter altogether. Of course billions of years ago, a warmer Mars might have had water all over the place. But then the planet's atmosphere was lost into space and we have the Mars that we have now: a dusty red form that is both cold and dry. Freezing temperatures and a low-pressure atmosphere would make any kind of substantial "pooling" difficult but if the source of the water was a Mars aquifer, then the water might stand for a year or so. That's what they're saying at the Planetary Space Institute.

Jules Godspiel of that said same institute ran a simulation model to determine if such a thing would be possible. Turns out that you could get standing pools of water...but just for a little while. From the article:

"Recent research suggested that if a significant amount of water flowed from a source such as an aquifer, it could stay liquid on the surface for a while, forming the puzzling features known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) that appear on some Red Planet slopes during warm months. RSL could form if a landslide or some other event exposed a source of water at the surface. Eventually, the water would begin to freeze and replug the source, cutting off the flow, researchers have said."

In other words, a lake of water could form on Mars under the present conditions and if it had enough depth, it might last a year before freezing over.

The topic of liquid water on Mars is somewhat loaded. It can bring about all manner of discussion from professional and pugnacious amateur astronomers. Just see the comments section of the linked article (that is if you can stomach the comments section of any online publication. I've all but sworn them off for the most part, but as you can see sometimes I lose out to temptation.) Despite that, the growing consensus seems to be that there are significant bodies of water beneath the surface of Mars. This new possibility, however theoretical, is a promising indicator that there may be more exciting discoveries on the way.

If they do find a lake, it needs to be named after Bowie.

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