Water on Mars

Katharine Sanderson in news@nature.com:

Photographs snapped of Mars show gullies that must have grown sometime in the past seven years. That, researchers say, is strong evidence that liquid water is still flowing on the red planet today. And with running water comes a better chance of finding life.

Previous work had suggested that some gullies on the planet are new in geological terms. But that could have meant anything from millions of years ago to just yesterday. The latest data, collected by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) before its recent demise (see ‘Goodbye Mars Global Surveyor’), suggest that water flows are happening now.

“Recognizing new contemporary processes is always a thrill,” says Michael Malin of instrumentation company Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, California, who led the investigation. “The current gully activity was anticipated, but to find it actually happening was very cool.”

Scientists are a long way from finding any evidence of little green bacteria on Mars, but now, they say, they have a better idea where to look. “If I were looking for life on Mars, I’d bias my research in the direction of these features,” says Mike Ravine, one of Malin’s colleagues.