Photo courtesy of redorbit.com
Corona del Mar High School

Water on Mars – our sister planet is becoming a twin

             

The dark lines on the slopes are RSLs. They found to contain calcium perchlorate - a compound that attracts and holds water from its environment. Photo courtesy of planets.ucla.edu.
The dark lines on the slopes are RSLs. They found to contain calcium perchlorate – a compound that attracts and holds water from its environment. Photo courtesy of planets.ucla.edu.

“Bleep! Bloop! Take me to your leader.”

A strange green, three-eyed alien holds a ray gun at point-blank range. You shake fearfully, and you desperately scream for help, but the alien silences you and is about to pull the trigger. You let out your last cry and cover your face with your sweaty palms. When you remove them, you find your parents hovering above your bed wondering why you are acting like a crybaby. That alien was a Martian, and you are relieved that it was only a dream. Aren’t we glad that aliens don’t exist?

We may not be correct. Scientists have long speculated that there is water, one essential component for life, elsewhere in the Solar System. They have found five places that showed signs of water- Mars, two of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, and two of Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan. Through years of digging for answers, scientists last September confirmed that Mars has water, and lots of it.

Over the past few years, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been photographing Mars’s surface. From the photos, scientists found Recurring Slope Lineae (RSLs), dark streaks that trickle down Mars’s steep slopes seasonally during the warmest times and fade away when winter arrives. When the RSLs were first discovered, scientists did not know why they occurred. Scientists now believe that it was because of an ionic compound— calcium perchlorate—in the RSLs. According to SPACE.com, this chemical can attract and hold water from its environment, and it exists on Mars as a brine, or hydrated salt. This brine is stable enough to substantially lower water’s freezing point and raise its boiling point, the same principle used for spraying salt on icy roads in winter after a snow storm, so flowing water can exist for longer periods of time without much evaporation. This finding presents the strongest evidence to date of the presence of flowing water on Mars. Even though this is a tremendous discovery, can we just pack our bags, hop on The Enterprise, and fly to Mars in a heartbeat? Not so fast.

In this spectrometer, the red and yellow areas indicate high elevation while blue and green areas indicate low elevation. The black diamonds mean RSLs are found there. Photo courtesy of bibliotecapleyades.net.
In this spectrometer, the red and yellow areas indicate high elevation while blue and green areas indicate low elevation. The black diamonds mean RSLs are found there. Photo courtesy of bibliotecapleyades.net.

Unfortunately, calcium perchlorate is toxic and corrosive, and can kill a person within seconds. However, scientists concluded that extraterrestrial bacteria could thrive in this water.  This leads to the unavoidable question: “Do aliens exist on Mars?” Though many are eager to further explore what Mars’s perchlorate-containing water has in store for us, scientists caution on the possibility of contaminating Mars’s ecosystem with our Earth bacteria.

“[Our] goals would be harmed, perhaps permanently, by the introduction of Earth organisms into environments on Mars where they could grow and reproduce,” said John Rummel, a senior scientist at Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

This situation proves to be a catch-22, but which is stronger: our curiosity to find biological life forms on Mars, or to preserve them?

Another challenge is the amount of time to travel from Earth to Mars. The two planets are 34 million miles apart at their closest point, as both planets orbit the sun in different trajectories.

“When we travel outside of Earth’s magnetic field, we lose a valuable shield. Astronauts would be constantly exposed to radiation that could go right through a typical NASA ship. A Mars ship will need to have a way to protect the people from this exposure. One example shield is to have water storage in the walls of the ship,” said Peter Selby, a Physics teacher at Corona del Mar High School.

The trip to Mars can also deteriorate one’s mind, as it will be long and boring. Selby explained that the voyage would be “at least six months and likely longer,” and would also likely “be a one-way trip.”

Selby also commented that “a ship that brings everything from Earth would be too big,” and we should instead “take advantage of some materials on Mars.” He pointed out that Andy Weir’s The Martian is accurate in terms of surviving on Mars (the book depicts a character stranded on Mars who has to live in an artificial habitat for survival). If we do get to Mars, we might start growing our crops and use Martian soil and our feces to fertilize them.

No doubt that NASA and other research teams have made a giant step forward for mankind, but we are years away from making the travel to Mars a reality until all the obstacles can be overcome. We are all ecstatic at the news, and here at Corona del Mar, students are discussing the boundless opportunities with future Mars exploration.

“Finding water on Mars is important since it could mean life may also exist somewhere else within our own Solar System, and even possibly for human to maybe one day live on Mars,” freshman Celine Niu said.

“The discovery of water on Mars is a potential “game changer.” If life (ancient or current) is found, then we know that life has existed somewhere other than Earth,” Selby added.

Someday when we fly to Mars, there is one thing that we can all say: Earth is our home, Mars is our neighbor down the street, and the Solar System is our community. We are all one, big, happy family.

If you traveled to Mars, what would you want to see?

“Olympus Mons. It’s three times higher than Mt. Everest.” – Freshman Emma Place

“Mars’s red color up close.” – Junior Molly Morrison

“A Martian civilization.” – Freshman Brenna Roberts

“I would want to see where they found the water.” – Sophomore Lauren Anderson

“Space unicorns.” – Freshman Christine Seaman