NASA recently released an image taken by a spacecraft of a large new gully on Mars. The picture was taken by the HiRISE camera located on NASA’s MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter). The new gully is located on a crater wall slope in Mars’ mid-southern latitudes and actually photographed on May 25, 2013.
The new gully, which is very similar to a river channel here on Earth, appears to have been formed in the last three years. NASA officials reported that the new gully wasn’t present in HiRISE photos of that area taken on Nov. 5, 2010. A NASA release states: “The dates of the images are more than a full Martian year apart, so the observations did not pin down the Martian season of the activity at this site.”
NASA officials note that the new gully was probably “not carved out by flowing water.” They stated that “before-and-after HiRISE pairs of similar activity at other sites demonstrate that this type of activity generally occurs in winter, at temperatures so cold that carbon dioxide, rather than water, is likely to play the key role.”
Despite this NASA scientists seem to be keeping an open mind to other possibilities. After all, they have previously reported that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has captured images of other Martian features that do appear to be associated with liquid water such as RSL (recurring slope lineae) or “dark slopes”.
In fact, the recurring slope lineae creep down crater walls and similar slopes during warm weather on Mars. Some of the research team believes the dark slopes are caused by a specific kind of briny water that includes some sort of iron-based antifreeze. Additionally, NASA’s Curiosity rover found an old lake-and-stream system close to its landing site on Mars that researchers believe could very well have “supported microbial life billions of years ago.”
At this time, however, there is no direct or conclusive evidence of any water at these dark slope sites. Scientists continue the elusive search, however, because if water does indeed flow anywhere on the surface of the present-day Red Planet it would indicate that Mars would be much more likely to host life. After all, life on Earth is present anywhere one finds liquid water.
(Image courtesy Sott/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)