Remember when you thought the moon landing was cool? Well this is about to blow your intergalactic socks off.
It turns out Mars isn’t the barren, desert wasteland you thought it was.
NASA officials just announced that flowing, liquid salt water exists there. In fact, Mars likely used to be home to a massive ocean about two-thirds the size of the northern hemisphere, but most of it dried up a very long time ago through the forces of climate change (sound familiar?).
This discovery obviously has huge significance, as it could mean not only that humans can live there, but that aliens could too (although NASA hasn’t found any just yet).
During a press conference earlier today, panelists were careful with how they broke the news, saying only that “under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.”
Mars goes through a seasonal cycle just like Earth. In the winter, its water freezes. But in the summer, it thaws and runs down craters and canyons. These trickle patterns leave dark stains on the Martian terrain, which prompted NASA researchers to analyze further.
Needless to say, scientists are getting pretty excited.
“It’s very likely that life exists in the crust of Mars,” Alfred McEwen, Professor of Planetary geology at Arizona State University, said during the press conference.
The discovery of water also means the discovery of hydrogen and oxygen, which life (as we understand it) requires to thrive. The planet’s atmosphere also contains nitrogen (another key to survival), while its air is more humid than originally thought.
Scientists still aren’t sure what the source of the water is, and more research will be needed before they can determine if it supports life. But the super-salty water on Mars closely mirrors the conditions found in certain parts of Chile’s Atacama Desert, where the briny liquid fosters active microbial colonies.
NASA says it expects to have more answers after their first manned-mission to the planet, which is slated for some time in the 2030s.
One small step for man, indeed.