In Brief

Nasa discovery boosts hopes of life on Mars

US space agency to send astronauts 'in near future' after evidence of flowing water found on red planet

Nasa scientists say they have found evidence of flowing water on Mars. According to researchers, the discovery of liquid water running down canyons and crater walls raises the chances of the planet being home to some form of life.

The space agency has hailed the "strongest evidence yet" of intermittent flows of briny water on Mars after scientists pinpointed hydrated salts in dark streaks that ebb and flow down the planet's slopes.

"There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars," Michael Meyer, the lead scientist on Nasa's Mars exploration programme, told The Guardian. "Because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today."

The existence of liquid water is also significant for future astronauts travelling to the planet, as the identification of water supplies near the surface would make it easier for them to "live off the land", says the BBC.

Nasa has already said it wants to put men on Mars and John Grunsfeld, the agency's science mission chief, said he hoped it would be able to do so "in the near future". A Mars mission would cost tens of billions of dollars.

Commenting on the project, Joe Michalski, a researcher at London's Natural History Museum who was not involved in the research, told The Independent: "On Earth, wherever we find water, we find life. That is why the discovery of water on Mars over the last 20 years is so exciting."

Water on Mars

Is Nasa about to reveal life on Mars or the presence of water?

28 September

Nasa is preparing to unveil a "major science finding" from its Mars exploration programme, fuelling speculation that liquid water may have been found on the planet.

The US space agency has invited reporters to a press conference at 11.30am ET (3.30pm GMT) on Monday, in which it promises a "Mars Mystery Solved". Though many will hope it is the discovery of alien life, the announcement is widely expected to be related to the presence of liquid water.

Speculation of the discovery was compounded by Nasa's disclosure that PhD candidate Lujendra Ojha, who discovered possible signs of water while an undergraduate in 2011, will be speaking as part of the announcement. Other speakers will include Jim Green, Nasa's director of planetary science, and Michael Meyer, the agency's lead scientist for the Mars exploration programme.

The presence of frozen water at the poles of Mars has been known, but scientists are yet to find it in liquid form. It is widely believed that such a discovery would raise the chances of sustaining life on the planet.

Doug McCuistion, the former head of Nasa's Mars programme, said a discovery of free-flowing water would be "game-changing". He told the Boston Herald: "If they're announcing that they've found easily accessible, freely flowing liquid water under the surface - which is one of the theories we've been hearing for years and years – that has massive implications both for the potential for life on that planet and sustainability of humans."

Nasa's Mars rover, Curiosity, has been exploring the Gale Crater on Mars since 2012 and found tantalising clues of possible life, according to The Telegraph. In December it discovered "burps" of methane, which Nasa scientists said could indicate "life or evidence of ancient methane trapped which could show ancient life".

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