Monday, March 16, 2009

Liquidy Mars

A team of scientists who worked on the Phoenix Mars lander missions last year are set to present a paper arguing for the existence of liquid water on the red planet. Or "Native American" planet, if you're racially sensitive. They believe that globules photographed on one of the lander's struts are actually liquid water kicked up from the landing process. According to the paper, called "Physical and Thermodynamical Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars", the globules are shown to move and merge over a series of photos, which is consistent with the physical properties of liquid water. Now, you're probably wondering how liquid water could exist on a planet surface that reaches two hundred degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Turns out that in addition to finding water ice just centimeters below the polar soil, Phoenix also discovered that the Martian soil is quite salty. Salt water has a much lower freezing point than fresh water, which makes liquid water a possibility. However, other scientists who also worked on the program believe that the globules are actually ice particles and that any liquid water that makes it to the surface would instantly turn into vapor. Like any good scientific argument, this one will undoubtedly be resolved only via a shirtless cage match. Possibly at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference near Houston later this month. More details here.

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