Water on Mars - So where's the life?

As the old saying goes, 'where there's water, there's life'. Well at least that's our belief here on planet Earth. So the fact that NASA scientists recently discovered water, flowing water that is and not just impenetrable ice, on planet Mars raises the question, 'Can our neighboring planet support life as we know it?' Or even more Hollywood style, 'Is there already life on the red planet?'

As the old saying goes, 'where there's water, there's life'. Well at least that's our belief here on planet Earth. So the fact that NASA scientists recently discovered water, flowing water that is and not just impenetrable ice, on planet Mars raises the question, 'Can our neighboring planet support life as we know it?' Or even more Hollywood style, 'Is there already life on the red planet?'

That there is water on Mars is strange when we go by Earth's rules.

?Firstly, Mars is much colder than Earth. Here, the freezing temperature for water is 0 degrees Celsius. The average temperature on Mars is -55 degrees Celsius. So how could there be liquid water on Mars? It is so cold there that we don’t have the technology to take pictures of the water. Cameras cannot work in sub-zero temperatures – they would simply freeze and malfunction.

But the answer to Mars' water puzzle is, according to planetary scientist, Javier Martin-Torres, quite simple: salt. The amount of salt in water changes its properties. Salt alters the temperature in which water freezes. We also know that there is definitely salt on Mars following a previous discovery. This means that water on Mars must have high quantities of salt and so freezes at much lower temperatures.

Scientists believe that the water cycle on Mars begins in its atmosphere. The atmosphere on Mars is very thin and contains vapor. When the vapor cools down, the salt on the planet’s surface absorbs it. As evening approaches, the temperature sharply decreases and the salt becomes saturated by the vapor. When this occurs, the water vapor creates brines, or water high in salt. These pools of water can be found within five centimeters of the uppermost part of the subsurface of Mars.

When it comes to our current understanding of life, it is difficult to imagine that there can be life in water that is so cold. Our planet cannot even reach the freezing temperatures that we see on Mars. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the water that does develop in the subsurface of Mars evaporates during the day where the temperature can reach up to 20 degrees Celsius. Therefore, when compared to our current standards, not only is it too cold for life to develop in such low temperatures, but it is also difficult for something to live within pools of water that don’t last very long. What all this basically means is that no conclusions about life on mars can be made just yet.

Prepared by: Jonathan Zur

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