With the help of a pair of Georgia Tech scientists, NASA announced this morning that it has found strong evidence of flowing water on Mars, raising the tantalizing possibility of extraterrestrial life.
Led by Georgia Tech doctoral candidate Lujendra Ojha, the scientists used instruments on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to study mysterious streaks that snake down the Red Planet’s steep slopes. Those streaks — known as recurring slope lineae or RSL — appear during the warmer seasons and then disappear at colder times during the Martian year.
Ojha first noticed the mysterious lines meandering across Mars five years ago when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona.
“When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” Ojha said in a prepared statement. “But there’s more. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”
Mary Beth Wilhelm, another Georgia Tech doctoral candidate and a NASA researcher, co-authored a paper about the findings with Ojha and others.
“Almost 40 years after the Viking landers first analyzed the soils on Mars, it’s exciting that we’re able to expand the places where this important resource might be concentrated on the red planet,” she said.
The discovery team also includes researchers from NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Arizona, Southwest Research Institute and Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique.
NASA made the announcement at an 11:30 a.m. news conference at is headquarters in Washington. The event was broadcast live on the agency’s website. Ojha and Wilhelm’s adviser at Georgia Tech, Assistant Professor James Wray, will be gathering with other Tech students to watch the event on the Atlanta campus this morning.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.