There could be salt water runnin' in them thar Martian hills! At least that's how NASA's news Monday of new evidence of the potential presence of flowing salt water sounded to my ears here in the southern Rockies.
The above photo from NASA's spacecraft orbiting Mars is a picture of dark markings that scientists say suggest seasonal flows down a slope, overlaid with colors from a mineral-mapping spectrometer observing the same region. NASA says the dark, fingerlike markings advance down some slopes when temperatures rise.
One suggested explanation for the phenomenon is that salty water containing "an iron-mineral antifreeze," like ferric sulfate, could flow seasonally on parts of Mars.
If you want to be in the know among Mars geeks, you'll want to use the official jargon for these dark lines, "recurring slope lineae" -- RSL is a pretty hot topic among Mars scientists these days.
Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and lead author of two new reports about the flows, has helped to confirm 13 RSL sites from this kind of imagery over the past few years.
"We still don't have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL, although we're not sure how this process would take place without water," Ojha said in a statement from NASA.
Whether these lines indicate flowing salt water or not, they seem to be a rare phenomenon. Researchers used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter to look at 200 sites that were identified as being ideal spots to see RSL, but only 13 of those sites actually showed any sign of the lines.
Clearly, the confirmed discovery of salt water on Mars, even in small amounts, could go a long way toward a deeper understanding of the planet's past and current climate and potential for life.
And if you're considering a career speculating in space real estate, it might be time to call Elon Musk, or start studying up on the international space treaties that could allow you to snag some prime lots for condos downhill from those lineae.