Mars Water: Much Ado About Very Little

In the search for life elsewhere in the universe, liquid water is the Holy Grail. Liquid water is absolutely essential for life, so in the estimation of many scientists, the presence of liquid water on another planet at the very least opens the door to the possibility of life there. While water is a common substance in the universe, the earth is the only place that we know for certain where liquid water exists. That is, until Monday, September 28, 2015, when NASA officials announced in a press conference the discovery of evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Or, maybe not. In a brief paper published the same day, a team of eight scientists claimed spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae (RSL) on Mars. What are RSL? They are narrow, dark streaks on some slopes that appear in the Martian spring, intensify in summer, and then fade in autumn. Being very thin, RSL show up only in the highest resolution images of the Martian surface, such as those supplied by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (RSO).

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