Saturday, August 13, 2011

Streaks at Martian crater suggest a watery flow

This is the upper edge of the Newton crater on Mars, imaged my the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The dark streaks extending downslope are very interesting; they are only seen in spring and summer, and fade away during the colder seasons. These streaks might be due to a flow of subsurface water that is likely a salty brine due to long-term contact with the martian rocks. Salt lowers the freezing point, which might allow subsurface ice to melt and seep down the crater's slope. This might be the cause for the seasonal stains that are seen in the crater's soil. Additional details can be found at the MRO website, including this nice movie of streaks forming and then fading. If these streaks are in fact watery seeps, they will be of great biological interest because wet soil will be a natural place to look for microbial life on Mars.

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