And it’s not just a little water, it’s a LAKE beneath the southern polar ice cap potentially remaining from an ocean that covered half the planet 4.3 billion years ago. Scientists have been aware of the water in ice form for years, but the discovery of liquid water is a whole new level of excitement. Beneath the ice is potentially 20 square kilometers (12.4 miles) of liquid saltwater about a meter deep.
So what does that mean?
That’s the exciting part: life; Mars having subsurface water leads to the potential of life within it’s salty waters. And with the discovery of organic materials earlier this summer by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, the search gets more and more thrilling.
As for the next order of business, the reservoir is mostly likely between -10 and -20 degrees C, so that leaves us with the questions: Can any form of life survive at these below freezing temperatures?
Yes! Roberto Orosei, lead scientist on the project, says "There are microorganisms that are capable of surviving well below zero even without being in contact with water, and there are microorganisms that can use the salt, presumably the salt in the water on Mars... for their metabolism" in an interview with Popular Mechanics. It’s possible that Mars contains life now, even if it is simply microorganisms, and quite safe to say that Mars was home to life before it lost it's magnetic field and, therefore, a great deal of its water.
The water once present on Mars billions of years ago is speculated to be habitable, according to the “Mars Ocean Hypothesis.” In fact, there may have been enough to cover the entire surface with 137 meters (450 feet) of liquid water. However, when the water was lost to space, this bit remained, which will reveal stories of the Red Planet 4.3 billion years ago.
So will scientists find microorganisms? More organic materials? Fossils? The prospect of humans traveling to Mars keeps becoming more enticing with each new discovery--some scientists are already researching what kinds of dangers astronauts will face and need to prepare for on the space trip to Mars and beyond. MyScienceWork was happy to be involved in an interview with NASA scientist, Dr. Lauren Liddell, the lab manager for the BioSentinel mission! BioSentinel is a, “small nanosatellite that’s going out into deep space to detect what kind of effect deep space radiation would have on living organisms.” This is only one detail of the massive checklist NASA needs to check off to send astronauts to the Red, and possibly habitable, Planet.
The more we know, the more we question. For the time being, NASA continues to “follow the water.”
For more information about the interviews, events, and history in this article, check out these articles below: