Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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Mars liquid water: Curiosity confirms favorable conditions

Posted: April 15, 2015

Mars liquid water: Curiosity confirms favorable conditions

By: Fernanda Pires

The Curiosity rover, which is exploring Gale Crater on Mars, confirms that the conditions for liquid water on the Red Planet are favorable. And in a detail that surprised researchers, the measurements were made in the tropical region of the planet – one of the driest regions.

The results of the study are published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Professor Nilton Renno, one of the researchers on the project, said the findings are significant.

"We had made simulations that imitated the conditions of Mars in my laboratory and the results showed us how small amounts of liquid water can exist on the surface of the polar region of Mars. Now we have the proof that liquid water is possible even in tropical region. It is an important discovery," he explains.

Renno was one of the first scientists to hypothesize that liquid water, in the form of brine, could exist on present-day Mars. In 2008, he noticed strange globules in photos Phoenix lander sent back. While Renno suggested that salts on the planet’s surface might have led to the drops of liquid, many of his colleagues disagreed. At that point, such salts had never been found on Mars.

But then they were. Among those that Phoenix detected is calcium perchlorate, a mixture of calcium, chlorine and oxygen that’s found in arid places like the Atacama Desert in Chile. Curiosity has since found the salt in several places on Mars’ surface.

These latest results show that the environmental conditions in Gale were favorable for the formation of night transient liquid brine in the highest 5 cm of the subsurface, which dries after sunrise. "It's a cycle, the brines melt, freeze, thaw and then melt again," explains Renno.

To read the full story, please visit Michigan Engineering.

(Image: NASA)

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