For years, scientists have puzzled over dark streaks that appear and disappear on the surface of Mars – and now they’re confident enough to assert that the streaks are caused by trickles of salty water.
Their findings, published Monday in Nature Geoscience, serve as the best evidence yet that liquid water still occasionally flows on the Red Planet. The research is likely to spark a new wave of speculation about life on Mars – but it’s not likely to justify the breathless reports that circulated in advance of the study’s release.
“Has NASA found life on Mars?” one headline asked over the weekend. The short answer is no. Nevertheless, NASA thought enough of the study to call it a “major science finding” and schedule a news briefing about it.
John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for space science, said the results make it “even more imperative that we send astrobiologists and planetary scientists to Mars, to explore the question, ‘Is there current life on Mars?’” NASA’s long-range plan calls for astronauts to start visiting Mars and its moons in the 2030s.