It’s been almost three years since NASA’s Curiosity dropped, somewhat ungracefully onto the dusty red surface of Mars. An event that, whilst nonetheless an incredible landmark, has actually been quite boring.
Sure, we’ve had a few great (dusty) pictures and NASA have learnt loads about rocks but that’s pretty much it. Obviously, all of this is great and has it’s scientific merit but where are all of the aliens? What happened to making friends with Martians and shouting things like, ‘ We come in peace!’
Well, this could be about to change as according to NASA reports, top space boffins have just found the best evidence yet that water exists on the red planet, which could very well mean extraterrestrial life.
Here’s the lowdown:
Why has it taken them so long to find it?
You could argue that we've always been aware of the presence of water on the planet, it’s just that so far all the evidence has pointed towards it being in the form of permafrost. Which in basic terms means that it’s frozen solid with no foreseeable thawing time. What’s exciting now is that NASA’s latest findings suggest that Martian soil is damp with liquid brine.
Hang on, brine? As in the hot dog stuff? You said water..?
Hold your horses. Brine is basically salt water. H20 as we generally know it would be impossible on Martian soil because of how cold it is, hence the aforementioned permafrost. The addition of calcium perchlorate (essentially explosive salt) changes the freezing temperature of liquid water so it can exist at around -70C. Perfect for creating spacey puddles on Mars, although at the moment it seems to only exist beneath the surface.
So, water means aliens right?
On a basic level, maybe. Traditionally speaking, water is an essential ingredient for life so this discovery could be a game changer. However, the conditions on Mars aren't exactly ideal for little green men to be living it up like The Jetsons. Firstly it’s bloody freezing, and secondly they’d be looking at daily radiation levels that are the equivalent of undergoing 24 back-to-back CAT scans.
So there aren’t any aliens?
Probably not, although that’s not to say it’s impossible. There are certain organisms on Earth called halophiles that manage to thrive in similarly salty environments. Although, admittedly they’re not up against face meltingly high levels of radition whilst simultaneously living in a perpetual winter but hey, it could be possible. Maybe. And it’s definitely better than more rock pictures…