The Mars Orbiter has sent back images of a newly formed gully on the Red Planet. The discovery has sparked increased interest in finding liquid water on other planets.
Following the publication of a new study hinting at possible doomsday scenarios in the future, scientists are considering colonizing nearby planets. A growing population, diminishing resources and accelerating climate change are of few of the factors that could bring the planet Earth to the breaking point decades from today. Scientists from NASA estimate that three planets are needed to ensure the long term survival of the human race. Due to the proximity of Mars, the Red Planet is one of the most appealing candidates.
To terraform Mars into a planet suitable for human life, current estimates say that the terraforming process will take around 120 years. However, this means that the pressing need for two more planets will need to be addressed. The process could be further hastened if scientists find evidence of liquid water on Mars.
A study suggests promising evidence that could mean liquid water exists on Mars. The study pointed towards a number of images sent back by the Mars Orbiter showing dark markings, called slope lineae, running down a sloped area on Mars. However, further study is needed to confirm whether the markings were made by running water.
The latest evidence that could point to liquid water was taken by the Mars Orbiter last year. The orbiter captured an image showing a gully that was formed recently. Comparing images from 2010 and 2013, NASA scientists found that the gully was formed in a relatively short period of time.
"A comparison of images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in November 2010 and May 2013 reveal the formation of a new gully channel on a crater-wall slope in the southern highlands of Mars," says NASA.
On Earth, the formation of a gully in the space of a few years can be caused by running water. However, NASA scientists have stated that the new Martian gully was probably formed by the action of carbon-dioxide frost. While the news may sound disappointing for scientists searching for water, the appearance of the gully provides new information about the process affecting geology on Mars.
"Gully or ravine landforms are common on Mars, particularly in the southern highlands. This pair of images shows that material flowing down from an alcove at the head of a gully broke out of an older route and eroded a new channel," NASA says. "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. 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."