Canada markets open in 3 hours 3 minutes
  • S&P/TSX

    20,595.89
    +4.89 (+0.02%)
     
  • S&P 500

    4,349.93
    -6.52 (-0.15%)
     
  • DOW

    34,168.09
    -129.61 (-0.38%)
     
  • CAD/USD

    0.7873
    -0.0023 (-0.29%)
     
  • CRUDE OIL

    87.42
    +0.07 (+0.08%)
     
  • BTC-CAD

    46,345.25
    -2,049.39 (-4.23%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    831.66
    -24.15 (-2.82%)
     
  • GOLD FUTURES

    1,809.60
    -20.10 (-1.10%)
     
  • RUSSELL 2000

    1,976.46
    -27.57 (-1.38%)
     
  • 10-Yr Bond

    1.8480
    0.0000 (0.00%)
     
  • NASDAQ futures

    14,168.50
    +10.00 (+0.07%)
     
  • VOLATILITY

    30.87
    -0.29 (-0.93%)
     
  • FTSE

    7,495.01
    +25.23 (+0.34%)
     
  • NIKKEI 225

    26,170.30
    -841.03 (-3.11%)
     
  • CAD/EUR

    0.7035
    +0.0015 (+0.21%)
     

On This Day: When will we know if there's life on Mars?

·Contributor
·4 min read
FILE IMAGE - OCTOBER 7:  A high-resolution image of gullies on the wall of crater in the Newton Basin in Sirenum Terra on the surface of Mars released by The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on October 7, 2002. This image is one of over 18,000 of the latest images of the Martian surface released by the JPL in conjunction with their Mars Global Surveyor mission. The Mars Global Surveyor has been in orbit around Mars since September 12, 1997.  (Photo by NASA/JPL/MSSS/Getty Images)
Gullies on the wall of the Terra Sirenum crater (Photo by NASA/JPL/MSSS/Getty Images)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series.

When astronomer Percival Lowell spotted what he thought were canals on Mars in the 19th century, he sparked an obsession with whether there is (or was) life on the Red Planet.

While Lowell’s discovery made him a laughing stock, today, space probes trundle across the surface of Mars in search of signs of life. 

But one of the most dramatic moments was on this day in 2006, when NASA scientists announced the discovery of what appeared to be recently flowing water on Mars, captured by the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. 

Many scientists believe Mars was once ‘warm and wet’, and that microbial life might have flourished there long ago. 

But what NASA announced in December 2006 was much more dramatic: evidence suggesting that water had flowed on Mars within that decade. 

The new deposits appeared over the space of seven years, NASA said (NASA)
The new deposits appeared over the space of seven years, NASA said (NASA)

The evidence came in the form of bright streaks down the side of two craters, Terra Sirenum and Centauri Montes, which may have been left by several swimming pool’s-worth of water flowing down the gentle slopes. 

Due to the low atmospheric pressure on Mars, the water would have boiled away from the surface. 

"These observations give the strongest evidence to date that water still flows occasionally on the surface of Mars," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Programme. 

John Murray of the Open University, one of the lead scientists on the European Mars Express spacecraft said, ‘ You've heard of a smoking gun. This is a squirting gun. It is a really interesting and tantalising find. There is so much evidence of past water flow, but if this is right then the same is happening at the present time.

Crater On Mars, Gullies Line The Steep Wall Of A Crater In Newton Basin In Sirenum Terra On Mars In An Image Taken By Mars Global Surveyor, The Gullies In The Image And Others Like It Were Surprising, Because They Might Have Been Formed By Groundwater See
Were the gullies in Terra Sirenum formed by flowing water? (Getty/NASA)
Mars Global Surveyor Over Olympus Mons, Mars Global Surveyor In Orbit Over The Martian Volcano Olympus Mons, In An Artist'S Conception. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
The images were captured by the Mars Global Surveyor satellite (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)

"This is one more place in which we might possibly find life. If you have micro-organisms frozen in water deposits just below the surface of Mars, then yes, these could be revived.

"It's a small possibility but it is a possibility: on Earth, microbescan exist for tens of thousands of years like that and still berevived."

In the decade-and-a-half after the finding, NASA rovers have flown to Mars, and other tantalising signs of flowing water have been uncovered. 

In 2015, images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) found more evidence that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.


MORE FROM THE 'ON THIS DAY' SERIES:

Saturn's rings filmed for first time Why did Concorde stop flying in 2003

How Coventry bounced back after being bombed in World War II Blitz

When mankind walked on the moon again in 'other' Apollo mission

JFK's final hours before he was assassinated

The day Osama bin Laden accepted responsibility for 9/11

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks have been seen on the Red Planet.

Scientists believe that briny water is flowing in a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington 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 a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water - albeit briny - is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during a virtual call to congratulate the NASA JPL Perseverance team on the successful Mars landing, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 4, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during a virtual call to congratulate the NASA JPL Perseverance team on the successful Mars landing, March 4, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Today, NASA’s new Perseverance probe (armed with its own helicopter) is still searching for signs of life. 

Perseverance will explore the Jezero Crater region of Mars. 

Artwork of NASA's Mars 2020 mission. The mission consists of a 3-metre-long rover called Perseverance, and a smaller 'rotorcraft' (1.2 metres in diameter) called Ingenuity. The helicopter is expected to fly five missions during the first 30 days of the mission, scouting locations for the rover. It is the first attempt at flight on another planet. The rover, meanwhile, will search for past signs of life in the red Martian soil, limiting its search to the bed of an ancient lake (now a crater called Jezero) and will prepare samples left on the planet's surface for later recovery and analysis on Earth.
The mission consists of a 3-metre-long rover called Perseverance, and a smaller 'rotorcraft' (1.2 metres in diameter) called Ingenuity (Getty)

It will also collect and cache samples of martian rocks and soil for subsequent missions to collect and return to Earth as part of the joint ESA-NASA Mars Sample Return campaign. 

Perseverance is armed with X-Rays and ultraviolet light and will zoom in to rock surfaces to look for signs of past microbial life. 

Watch: Mars Rover captures stunning images of Martian sand dunes

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting