Watch NASA scientists explain why they think water still flows on Mars

Some of NASA’s top scientists are set to share new findings they say will solve a mystery about Mars.

Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, and Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, will hold a news conference Monday morning at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to “detail a major science finding,” according to the space agency.

The news conference will also include three members of the research team behind a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience that offers evidence of “contemporary water activity on Mars.”

In that study, scientists from Georgia Tech, NASA Ames Research Center and elsewhere explain that an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted telltale signs of hydrated salts in several locations on the surface of the Red Planet.

Using data collected by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument, the team members concluded that salts are deposited on the slopes of several craters and canyons. These salts — including magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate – appear to have been carried there recently by flowing water.

Mars has frozen water at its poles and traces of water in the dust that covers its surface. Finding liquid water flowing on Mars would make the planet much more Earth-like, and potentially increase the likelihood of Martian life.

In their study, the researchers write that their findings “strongly support the hypothesis that seasonal warm slopes are forming liquid water on contemporary Mars.” But they aren’t sure where that water comes from. One of the possibilities that comes to mind – that water ice melts in the relatively warm summer – is unlikely, since these salts weren’t found near the icy poles. They list a few other theories but say none of them seems probable.

More details may be forthcoming in the news conference, which begins at 8:30 a.m. You can watch it live in the window above.

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