Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mars is Moist, Maybe

This is a story that's showing up pretty big even in the mainstream media - signs of possible recent water flows on Mars. When talking about Mars, "recent" usually means "the last 300 or 400 million years" - but in this case, the changes are seen over the last seven years! Before NASA lost contact with Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), it was used to revisit hundreds of previously imaged high-slope gully areas in 2004 and 2005. Researchers then looked for changes between the old and new images and found some that are strongly suggestive of brief flows of liquid water (possibly from an underground geothermal source like a geyser). Coloration and other features suggest that these are liquid-based flows rather than shifting dust or debris. Pretty amazing stuff. The findings will appear in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Does this increase the chances of finding life of some sort on Mars? That's what everybody thinks, hopes, wonders, or imagines. I suppose it makes it more plausible if not more likely. It would sure make Mars a more hospitable place for future human settlers. It's too bad that MGS went off line just before this big announcement, but the good news is that MRO is now in orbit and has just started its science phase, with even higher resolution instruments than the ones MGS used to make these observations.

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