NASA: Mars waters not 'habitable'

NASA: Mars waters not 'habitable'
© NASA

Scientists do not expect to find any signs of life in the recently discovered flowing waters on Mars.

At a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on the search for life beyond Earth, NASA's Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan said the chemicals in the water would not be able to sustain anything living on Earth.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It certainly makes us concerned that that water in particular had a lot of perchlorates in it,” Stofan said. “Based on what we know about life on Earth, that would not be a very habitable type of water."

Her words come a day after NASA announced the discovery of the strongest evidence yet that liquid water sometimes flows on Mars. And while scientists downplayed the idea of life within that water due to the salt concentration, they admitted extraterrestrial life might not need the same conditions to survive.

“Terrestrial life as we know it — bacteria, etc. — would all be sterilized by that solution, but is there a form of life that has evolved to live in that solution? That would be very interesting, but not impossible,” said Dr. Jonathan Lunine, director of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University.

When asked why there are no pictures of the flowing water, Stofan explained that the amount of water that NASA identified on the surface is small and difficult to photograph. But she assured the committee that “water is there on Mars, we know it’s not in huge abundance right near the surface, but we know it’s at the poles.”

NASA is still confident that Mars is the best place to find signs of past life, and further exploration is needed.  

Stofan said she is “very optimistic” about the chances of the planned 2020 Mars Rover finding fossilized microbial organisms.

“But again I think it’s going to take humans on the surface of Mars to really get at that definitive evidence to study the liquid water,” she added.

After the hearing, Science Committee Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithOvernight Energy: Watchdog to investigate EPA over Hurricane Harvey | Panel asks GAO to expand probe into sexual harassment in science | States sue over methane rules rollback Report on new threats targeting our elections should serve as a wake-up call to public, policymakers Overnight Energy: Watchdog faults EPA over Pruitt security costs | Court walks back order on enforcing chemical plant rule | IG office to probe truck pollution study MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill that Congress is still committed to sending astronauts to Mars, which could come in the 2030s at the earliest. 

While NASA has blamed some delays in the commercial space program on Congress, Smith said it is the Obama administration that has not put forward a coherent plan on getting astronauts into deep space.   

“It has been the administration that has not put forward a plan nor the funds to get humans to Mars," he said. "I've been pushing that myself to get a fly-by in the next few years but that has been resisted by this administration."

Though the hearing came just a day after NASA announced the discovery of strong evidence of water flowing on Mars, the timing is merely a coincidence.

“The announcement by NASA yesterday was fortuitous, but it obviously heightened the interest in the general subject,” Smith said.