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New study waters down the amount of H20 believed to be in Mars ‘dark streaks’

HALE CRATER, MARS - UNSPECIFIED DATE: In this handout provided by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, dark, narrow streaks on the slopes of Hale Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on surface of present-day Mars. These dark features on the slopes are called "recurring slope lineae" or RSL. Scientists reported on September 28, 2015 using observations with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer on the same orbiter detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale Crater, corroborating the hypothesis that the streaks are formed by briny liquid water. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona via Getty Images)
NASA/Getty Images
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows dark, narrow streaks on the slopes of Hale Crater that were thought to be created by water, but are now under question.

The scientific community was elated last summer when NASA scientists found long, dark streaks on the surface of Mars that they said could be proof of possible flowing liquid water on Mars.

The scientific community was elated last summer when NASA scientists found long, dark streaks on the surface of Mars that they said could be proof of possible flowing liquid water on Mars.

Now, almost a year later, new research from researchers at Northern Arizona University and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has come out suggesting that if those dark streaks -- called “recurring slope lineae” (RSL) -- were created by flowing water, it wasn’t much. Furthermore, they say it’s also possible that the RSLs weren’t created by water at all, though it’s not clear to them just yet what did cause the streaks if it wasn’t flowing water.

The tests, done using data collected by the NASA Mars Odyssey mission’s Thermal Emission Imaging System, measured the temperature of the ground that had dark streaks versus areas that did not. The results showed no temperature difference in the compared areas, and it was determined that at most the darkened streaks on Mars surface contain three percent water. That’s about as much as you’d find in the driest desert sands on Earth, according to a NASA JPL press release.

The researchers are careful to point out that the new research doesn’t contradict last year’s findings that suggest there could be flowing water on Mars during the summer months, but it does narrow down exactly how much water could have created them.

Guest:

Chris Edwards, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University

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