You probably heard the news that scientists found liquid water on Mars. This is the first major discovery in an ongoing hunt to find more bodies of water and determine if the Red Planet has ever harbored water-based life forms.
A paper published in Science showed radar-based evidence to suggest that there is a massive saltwater lake submersed below one of Mars’s polar ice caps. At a balmy -68ºC (-90ºF), researchers believe it’s still liquid because of how salty it is, and because it’s being protected from evaporation by the ice cap covering it. On Earth, we have similar lakes underneath ice caps in Antarctica and Canada.
And the point is? A couple of things.
First, this is the largest amount of water ever found on Mars. Scientists had found some water before, but never this much. It is a large lake at 20km in diameter (~12.5mi), which makes researchers wonder if it’s connected to other subterranean lakes with deeper water tables, ones that might be more hospitable to life.
Second, a lake made of liquid water is typically where life flourishes on Earth, so we could hypothesize that the same might be true for lakes on Mars. This particular lake, however, is probably too salinated to harbor life (Science Magazine explains why this is the case along with the methods used in finding the lake).
Let’s be real here: we’re talking microbial life, if any, living in these newly discovered lakes. No sea dragons are hiding on Mars, and if we do end up finding Martian sea dragons 100 years from now, I’ll be the first to issue a correction.
We have evidence to support the notion that Mars once had, and still has, flowing water. We know that it was warmer and wetter in the distant past (its hypothesized to have been dry for about 3.8 billion years). Mars has also showed evidence of river deltas and other ecological characteristics of a water-prominent planet. So the big question -- are there Martians in the water? -- will remain unanswered for now. But Mars clearly has more secrets waiting to be revealed to scientists who are dedicated to studying the frozen fourth planet.
(Pictured above: Mars. Photo from NASA)