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Planetary Society Comments on Mars Water Announcement

Press Release From: Planetary Society
Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Today, NASA released photographs that reveal bright new deposits in two gullies on Mars, suggesting water has flowed in brief spurts on Mars within the last seven years. The Planetary Society congratulates the Mars Global Surveyor team for yet another significant scientific discovery. Below are some comments from Planetary Society Director of Projects, Bruce Betts on the significance of these findings.

Why is this important?

"If this discovery holds, it is very significant. Only a few years ago, the common belief was that liquid water last flowed on Mars over a billion years ago. Now, we see evidence that liquid water may be flowing today and may currently exist in the subsurface."

Why is it surprising that Mars would have liquid water?

"Liquid water is not stable on the Mars surface right now. It exists as an ice or a gas, like dry ice on Earth, because of the very low pressure of the Mars atmosphere."

What enabled this discovery?

"The fact that Mars Global Surveyor lasted so far beyond its projected lifetime has allowed this type of discovery that requires observing the same area over and over again."

What does this mean for the search for life on Mars?

"Liquid water is one of only three things required by all life on Earth. If there is liquid water on Mars, that makes it even more compelling to search for life on Mars. Though the chances of current microbial life on Mars are unknown, the odds may have just gone up."

What is the significance for life in the universe?

"If we did find life on Mars, our next door neighbor, that would be not only an incredibly profound discovery on its own, but also might imply that life may evolve comparatively easily, and there might be many places in the more distant universe that may harbor life."

What does this say about the significance of science missions within NASA?

"In a time when science has been under attack within the NASA budget, this once again demonstrates the importance of science missions like Mars Global Surveyor. They are missions of discovery, where the most important findings are often the most unexpected."

Bruce Betts is available for interview. Please contact Susan Lendroth at The Planetary Society or Bruce Betts directly:

susan.lendroth@planetary.org bruce.betts@planetary.org 626-793-5100

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