NASA is preparing to reveal a “major science finding” on Monday and there’s feverish speculation about what could prove to be a groundbreaking discovery.
On Thursday, the space agency announced a special news conference, “Mars mystery solved”.
The line-up includes Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters, Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, as well as other key researchers.
As Business Insider reported on Friday, the appearance of Ph.D candidate at Georgia Tech, Lujendra Ohja, at the scheduled conference has led people to believe that NASA is about to announce evidence of water on Mars — and even the possibility of flowing water — on the Red Planet.
Science and tech publication, Inverse, says that their “best guess” behind NASA’s mystery announcement will “involve flowing water, and the potential for alien life”.
In 2011, Ojha — then an undergrad at the University of Arizona and student of geophysics — stumbled on what he described as “possible flows of salt water on Mars” during his study of gullies on Mars.
During his research, Ojha found evidence of “liquid, briny water that seemed to spring up in finger-like dark flows” during the warmer months now known as “recurring slope linae” or RSL, according to Inverse.
“We still don’t have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL, although we’re not sure how this process would take place without water,” said Ojha.
Earlier this year, the Curiosity rover — which has been studying Mars’ temperature and humidity for three years – further detected the presence of super salty brines with new speculations that liquid water could be housed very close to Mars’ surface.
The rover’s findings indicated that when water vapour froze during cold nights, it would fall onto the soil of Mars, containing calcium perchlorate, which would then lower the freezing point of water.
So far, these findings have provided the biggest indicator that Mars could be home to flowing water.
While researchers have for a long time now, known that Mars was home to water in the form of ice, the existence of flowing water on the planet’s surface has remained debatable with many believing Mars to be too dry or cold for water.
“The flow of water, even briny water, anywhere on Mars today would be a major discovery, impacting our understanding of present climate change on Mars and possibly indicating potential habitats for life near the surface on modern Mars,” said JPL’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist Richard Zurek.
According to Mirror, the other – but less likely – theory is that NASA will announce microbial life on Mars.
Speculation about life on Mars has been building since the 1960s when NASA began sending spacecraft to orbit the Red Planet, which is more similar to Earth than anywhere in the solar system, and therefore, a likely place for alien life.
According to planetory.org, scientists have three conditions which they believe are essential to support life: “liquid water, access to a range of elements and minerals essential for metabolic activity, and energy that can be exploited to power the chemical reactions needed to power life.”
Even if NASA announces the discovery of water on Mars, they would only be fulfilling one of the necessities for microbial life on the alien planet.
“Ubiquitous life is unlikely at Mars or we’d have seen its chemical signature. (The presence of trace amounts of methane gas in the atmosphere may be a chemical signature of life but it could also result from abiotic geologic processes.)” writes Van Kane, who has followed planetary exploration since 1976.
It is widely speculated that Mars once had a huge ocean spanning the planet’s surface and was much warmer in the past than it is today suggesting that life did exist on ancient Mars but then later died off.
While Kane suggests that the Curiosity’s mission has so far provided “support of life or at least pre-biotic chemistry” in the northern parts of Mars where it is occasionally mild, he says that “Mars, even in on its northern plains, is a harsh word where any life likely survives in extremely marginal conditions”.
Earlier this year, the NASA Mars rover stumbled upon what was described as a “giant space crab alien“. It joins the list of other strange things found on Mars such as a “thigh bone”, a “jelly donut”, a “dinosaur spine”, a “Mars ape-lady” as well as the face of a “half-human, half-goat creature”.
The news conference will be broadcasted live on NASA Television on Tuesday, September 29, at 1pm (AEST).
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