The idea of liquid water on Mars is an enticing one. We know life on Earth needs liquid water, and if we find it on Mars… We know there’s plenty of frozen water on Mars; we see it there in abundance. But Mars is cold, and the air is thin, making liquid water on the surface difficult to achieve, let alone sustain.
But there’s been tantalizing evidence. Ever since Mars Global Surveyor got to the Red Planet in 1997, we’ve seen gullies sprinkled here and there. These gullies form on slopes near the tops of the hills, and are clearly the result of something moving downslope and digging furrows. But is that something water, or just sand and dust? The conclusions flip-flop back and forth; I’ve seen papers come out saying water-not-sand and others saying sand-not-water several times.
Does liquid water still flow on Mars?
We know that in the distant past — like, a billion years ago — liquid water was abundant on Mars. We also know that water currently exists on Mars in the form of ice, sometimes just below the surface (where even small meteor impacts can reveal it). But can there still be liquid water flowing on Mars, even if only for a very, very short time?
Maybe. Just maybe.