Curious lines running down slopes on the Martian surface may be streaks of super-salty brine, said the latest findings on Monday in the scientific quest for extra-terrestrial liquid water, a prerequisite for life.
A team from the United States and France said it found evidence in the lines of “hydrated” salt minerals, which require water for their creation. These results “strongly support the hypothesis” of liquid water on Mars today, concluded a research paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Astrophysicists have long hypothesised that the seasonal streaks, dubbed “recurring slope lineae” (RSL), may be formed by brine flows on the Red Planet.
The lines, up to a few hundred metres in length and typically under five metres (16 feet) wide, appear on slopes during warm seasons, lengthen, then fade as they cool. But spacecraft images have not been detailed enough to probe what is within the lines — the pixel resolution is coarser than the width of the streaks.
In April, scientists reported in the same journal that perchlorate salts, like the ones in the new study, were “widespread” on the surface of our planetary neighbour and humidity and temperature conditions just right for salty brines to exist.
Perchlorate is highly absorbent and lowers the freezing point of water so that it remains liquid at colder temperatures. The new study found signs of these same salts in the enigmatic streaks.
Earlier this year, NASA said almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere had once been an ocean, reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometres. But 87 per cent of the precious substance was lost to space.