While the supermoon provided some great photo opportunities for those with a clear sky last night, evidence of water on Mars was the major announcement of the day. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) detected signatures of hydrated minerals on the slopes of hills that look like long, dark streaks called recurring slope lineae (RSL). According to scientists, flowing water is thought to be responsible for their formation. This is inferred by how the streaks darken during warm seasons and fade during cold seasons.
But the real kicker is a statement from astronaut John Grunsfeld, who said, “Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected.”
This is significant because, while there’s no evidence of life on Mars- or anywhere else in the universe- the existence of liquid water is considered necessary for life to exist. And while missions such as this are meant to gather information and data about our solar system, the search for extraterrestrial life seems to be at the forefront of every discovery.
Now this isn’t even the first time scientists have found evidence of water on the Red Planet, but they consider it to be their “strongest evidence yet”. I’ve blogged about how scientists have suspected that the canals on Mars were formed by water erosion, and that the atmosphere freezes and forms dry ice on the ground. There’s also evidence of dried up river beds, ancient river valleys, drain patterns, channels, river flows, alluvial fans, oxbows, gullies down the sides of craters, exposed ice on the polar caps, and sedimentation. So evidence of water on Mars is nothing new, but any opportunity to increase the public’s awareness about the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe can never be passed up.
I also find the timing of this announcement interesting. The streaks were first noticed by lead author Lujendra Ojha back in 2010, but the study was just published on September 28th, just four days before the release of the motion picture, The Martian- a movie that NASA has partnered with 20th Century Fox. I imagine the timing of the announcement was intended to hype the movie, and I find that to be a smart marketing ploy.
I don’t expect extraterrestrial life to be found beyond what has originated upon earth. I believe God created the heavens and the earth and the entire universe, but I see no reason to believe that he created life elsewhere. So while I love science, space exploration, cool discoveries and science fiction, it seems unnecessary to advance the narrative of alien life. But I totally understand the necessity to maximize profits for the movie, The Martian, which I plan on seeing. I just hope it’s worth the hype and the price of admission.