OK, this is pretty damn cool

You know, if listening to a bunch of self-serving speeches to the UN General Assembly is your thing, I can’t blame you. Heck, Vladimir Putin is explaining about how he personally plans to make the world safe for freedom and democracy on my TV as I write this. But for my money, nothing any of these people say today is going to be as interesting, important, or just plain cool as the announcement that NASA just made a little while ago:

We finally have a firm answer to one of the biggest mysteries of Mars. Not only did the Red Planet have water in the past, but it has it right now, flowing in a briny mix that keeps it from freezing. This confirms decades of observations.

In an article published in Nature Geoscience, a team led by Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology confirms that seasonal flows in mountainous regions of the planet correspond with the presence of briny water. The seasonal flows were first noticed in 2010, with water the strongest suspect. Spectral observations of season data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate the presence of hydrated salts on the surface, or water mixing with a thick brine of salts.

This is the best evidence yet that there is (microbial, but still) life on Mars (or at least a test case for the idea that where there’s water, there’s probably life), and it seemingly confirms some findings of previous Martian probes:

But occasionally, Mars probes have found hints that the planet might still be wet. Nearly a decade ago, Nasa’s Mars Global Surveyor took pictures of what appeared to be water bursting through a gully wall and flowing around boulders and other rocky debris. In 2011, the high-resolution camera on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured what looked like little streams flowing down crater walls from late spring to early autumn. Not wanting to assume too much, mission scientists named the flows “recurring slope lineae” or RSL.

This GIF shows the seasonal development of the RSLs (the dark lines) that NASA is now pretty sure are caused by water flowing through the soil (Wikimedia)

This is also a heck of a professional triumph for Lujendra Ojha, currently a PhD candidate at Georgia Institute of Technology, who co-authored the study that first identified those recurring slope lineae back when he was an undergrad at the University of Arizona. I imagine that “Discovered liquid water on Mars” looks pretty good on a science resume.

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