Martian Paradise

In the days leading up to NASA’s much anticipated announcement this past Monday concerning a recent discovery on Mars, I saw many theories pop up. Would it be microbial life? Fossilized remains? Lizard men? The prevailing theory quickly became that NASA would announce the discovery of liquid water on Mars’ surface, and as many of you already know wound up being correct. I’ll admit, prior to the announcement I was highly doubtful that this was possible. See, the temperature and pressure maintained by Mars’ atmosphere is extremely low in comparison to Earth’s (about 0.6%); causing water to undergo a phenomena known as sublimation. This means that rather than melting, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that H2O goes straight from solid to gas, vaporizing the instant it goes above 0°C. You can witness sublimation first-hand any time you freeze-dry food, or more commonly any time you see a block of dry ice (frozen carbon-dioxide).
However, you probably have guessed by now that all of this is a bit irrelevant at this point because NASA did in fact announce the discovery of flowing Martian water. So how is this possible? Well, as it turns out everything stated above is technically correct (the best kind of correct.) While Mars’ atmosphere does not allow the existence of pure liquid H2O on the surface, water that has been saturated so heavily by perchlorate salts (ClO4) that the freezing temperature has been lowered from 0°C (32°F) to -70°C (-94°F) apparently is allowed.
So! What does this mean? Well, the quantity of water observed is very small so far, but so is the quantity of Mars’ surface that has been observed up close. Since 2006, only around 3% of Mars’ surface has been photographed at a resolution high enough to observe these brines. Still, life as we know it would not be able to exist in water activity as low as we are currently observing, let alone at this level of salinity. That being sad, this has greatly increased the odds of life existing at one point on Mars. While perchlorate salts have the ability to absorb water molecules from the surrounding air, as well as from the ice captured in Martian soil, as mentioned earlier the atmosphere on Mars is .6% the density of that on Earth, making it a very unlikely source. I personally believe it is far more likely that these brines will further our knowledge about the existence and eventual fate of Mars’ long extinct oceans, though whether or not they are remnants of said oceans remains to be seen (and is unlikely given the near 4 billion year time frame.)
Regardless, this is all very exciting news, and I can’t wait until more information is released!

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