Washington, March 18 (ANI): A new analysis by a group of mission scientists has determined that salty, liquid water has been detected on a leg of the Mars Phoenix Lander and therefore could be present at other locations on the Red Planet.
This is the first time liquid water has been detected and photographed outside the Earth.
"A large number of independent physical and thermodynamical evidence shows that saline water may actually be common on Mars," said Nilton Renno, a professor in the U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and a co-investigator on the Phoenix mission.
"Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life. This discovery has important implications to many areas of planetary exploration, including the habitability of Mars," he added.
Previously, scientists believed that water existed on Mars only as ice or water vapor because of the planet's low temperature and atmospheric pressure.
They thought that ice in the Red Planet's current climate could sublimate, or vaporize, but they didn't think it could melt.
This analysis shows how that assumption may be incorrect.
"Temperature fluctuation in the arctic region of Mars where Phoenix landed and salts in the soil could create pockets of water too salty to freeze in the climate of the landing site," Renno said.
Photos of one of the Lander's legs show droplets that grew during the polar summer.
Based on the temperature of the leg and the presence of large amounts of "perchlorate" salts detected in the soil, scientists believe the droplets were most likely salty liquid water and mud that splashed on the spacecraft when it touched down.
The Lander was guided down by rockets whose exhaust melted the top layer of ice below a thin sheet of soil.
"Some of the mud droplets that splashed on the Lander's leg appear to have grown by absorbing water from the atmosphere," Renno said.
Images suggest that some of the droplets darkened, then moved and merged - physical evidence that they were liquid.
Thermodynamic calculations offer additional evidence that salty liquid water can exist where Phoenix landed and elsewhere on Mars.
The calculations also predict a droplet growth rate that is consistent with what was observed. (ANI)