There has been quite a lot of excitement recently in the planetary sciences. If you haven’t already heard (if not, where have you been!?), it has now been confirmed that liquid water flows on the surface of Mars – this is almost old news now with the speed things travel on the internet!

This discovery is so new and exciting as they believe water is actually liquid and flowing on the surface of the planet, right now. We’ve known for a while that water exists on Mars, frozen in its ice caps, and we’ve also known that water once flowed but has since evaporated, but flowing water today is new.

Dark streaks believed to be caused by the flow of brine (click for source)

Let’s get this right though, flowing water has not actually be “found”, but strange seasonal streaks on the planet have been interpreted as brine flows using high resolution spectral data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In fact, the paper clearly states, “no direct evidence for either liquid water or hydrated salts has been found”, but it does say “Our findings strongly support the hypothesis that recurring slope lineae form as a result of contemporary water activity on Mars”. So they are pretty sure, but until we can get direct evidence it is still very much a hypothesis so lets not get carried away envisaging little green men, but this is definitely the beginning of something very exciting!

Dark streaks representing the potential flow of brine on Mars (click for source)

This somehow makes me feel quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things knowing that our Earth isn’t as special and unique as we are inclined to think. Also rather exciting (or scary?) is that the likelihood that we aren’t alone in our solar system is now pretty high!

There are lots of great articles, blogs and other resources available online if you want to find out more – a google search brings up a lot of things, but the actual paper will be your best resource.  So with the risk of just repeating others, I thought I would bring to you a few interesting/amusing things you may not know about the discovery of water flowing on Mars.

Without further ado:

1. NASA’s Mars rovers are banned from touching, analysing and even going near the flowing water, so for the moment we aren’t able to confirm the existence of such rivers. If you think about it this does make sense – in the search for life, how will be know that potential organic material was found on the planet, not just brought there from Earth by the rover.  In the search for life this may become an issue however!

2. You can view satellite images of Mars on Google maps and try to spot these streaks yourself. Just go here – pretty cool.
3. Shortly after the announcement by NASA, US conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh stated that he believes it is a left wing conspiracy and all data used in the research has been made up. No good science story is complete without equally good conspiracy theories it seems…!

4. Ridley Scott, the director of the new film “The Martian” stated, “I knew this months ago” in response to the discovery. However he was told too late to incorporate this finding into the film.

5. A likely* cause and origins of such flows:

* By likely I mean 100% certainly the truth…