London, Feb 19 (ANI): In a new finding, it has been determined that compounds known as percholates, found by NASA's Phoenix Lander team, act as a natural antifreeze, and may help keep Mars running with water.
Last year, NASA's Phoenix lander team announced the unexpected discovery on Mars of perchlorates - compounds containing an atom of chlorine bound to four oxygen atoms.
Relatively sparse on Earth, they turn out to be abundant on Mars, forming 1 per cent of the soil tasted by Phoenix.
The initial excitement focused on whether Martian microorganisms could use perchlorates as food, as some Earth microbes do.
That remains possible, but now, according to a report in New Scientist, it's emerging that perchlorates could have far-reaching consequences on Mars because of their ability to keep water liquid far below 0 degree Celsius.
The Phoenix measurements could not distinguish between different kinds of perchlorates, but the most likely candidates are magnesium and sodium perchlorate, based on the abundance of magnesium and sodium ions that Phoenix detected.
Concentrated solutions of these salts can stay liquid down to -72 degree C and -37 degree C respectively.
That makes it possible for liquid water to play a bigger role in shaping modern Mars than previously thought, despite temperatures that are usually far below zero.
Pockets of water could persist just below the surface, insulated by the soil above, and might occasionally flow across the surface.
"It's possible to have liquid almost everywhere where there is ice and the temperature goes above this threshold value - that's most of Mars," said Phoenix team member Nilton Renno of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
With perchlorates present, it's possible to have liquid water on most of Mars.
This could explain gullies on Martian slopes that look much like water-carved features seen on Earth and seem to have formed recently.
Perchlorate-laced water might also accumulate beneath glaciers and help them slide around, which could explain signs that extremely cold and stiff glaciers on Mars's northern ice cap have flowed over time.
According to Renno, if pockets of liquid water exist on present-day Mars, they might even support life.
The most concentrated perchlorate solutions would be unlikely to support life, but milder solutions could allow liquid and thus life to exist. (ANI)