Flowing water on Mars sparks new hunt for life traces

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2011 (AFP) – Scientists have found evidence of flowing salt water on steep Martian slopes, which if confirmed would be the first discovery of active liquid water on the red planet, NASA said Thursday. The data gathered by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has given new focus to the hunt for life forms and scientists hope that in the coming years lab experiments and new space missions may shed more light on what they have seen.

“We have found repeated and predictable evidence suggesting water flowing on Mars,” Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration program, told reporters.

The US space agency said the orbiter circling Mars since 2006 had monitored numerous instances of what appeared to be water flows occurring in several locations during the Martian spring and summer.

Time-sequence imagery of the Newton crater in the southern mid-latitude region showed finger-like markings spreading along several steep slopes and then fading again once colder temperatures move in.

“The best explanation we have for these observations so far is flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. ”