Liquid Water Flows on Mars — What’s Next?

posted: 09/29/15
by: Irene Klotz for Discovery News
Recurring 'Lineae' on Slopes at Hale Crater, Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The discovery of seasonal water flows on the surface of Mars could galvanize both the search for indigenous life as well plans for future human settlements, but don't pack your bags quite yet.

For the immediate future, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which provided the legwork that led to Monday's announcement, will continue to gather high-resolution images and chemical data from areas, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSL, that have been linked to recent briny water flows.

These dark, narrow streaks cut into cliff walls throughout the planet's equator are unreachable by Curiosity and Opportunity, the two rovers now operating on Mars, and the Curiosity-class rover that is due to launch in 2020.

"Curiosity has gone up some pretty steep slopes, but some of these briny features are in tough terrain. It'd be trivial to an astronaut in a spacesuit to go up and investigate, but it's very hard for a rover, so we're a little ways off," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science.

"I think (the discovery) will really drive the ingenuity of our scientists and engineers to come up with a viable experiment - and hopefully we can do it in the 2020s -- that would go and investigate these areas and perhaps even return samples from these areas some day," he added.

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