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NASA has confirmed for the first time that liquid water, flowing on the surface of Mars, is not just thing of the past, it’s also present on the planet’s surface today.

“This is tremendously exciting,” James L. Green, Director, NASA’s planetary science division

“We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that.” – James L. Green

NASA is also thinking about sending a spacecraft in the 2020 to one of these regions to directly look for life.

The water we are talking about is in form of hydrated salts, but as per Alferd S. McEwen,  a professor of planetary geology at the University of Arizona “There pretty much has to have been liquid water recently present to produce the hydrated salt.”

By “recently,” Dr. McEwen said he meant “days, something of that order.”

We knew that the large amounts of water is present in form of frozen solid in the polar ice caps. Also there have been hints of liquid water, but none have proved convincing.

In 2011, the photographs from the orbiter  shows dark streaks descending along slopes of mountains. The streaks lengthened during summer, faded in winters, then reappeared the next year.

Scientists suspected that water played a critical role in this behaviour,  similar to the way concrete darkens when wet and returns to its original color when dry. But that was just a guess.

But now, the signs of the salt disappeared when the streaks faded is very definitive that there is some sort of liquid water.

So how does the water remains liquid on Mars?

The salts lower the freezing temperature, and the water remains liquid. The average temperature of Mars is about -70 degrees Fahrenheit, but in summers the temperature at Equator can reach an almost 70 degrees.

The scientists are still not sure about where the liquid water might be coming from on Mars. The current readings of the planet’s atmosphere point to very low humidity near the surface, but there’s also a chance that it might be coming from underground aquifers on the planet, which seep out when things warm up.

What about presence of Life?

Christopher P. McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., does not think the recurring slope lineae are a promising place to look. For the water to be liquid, it must be so salty that nothing could live there, he said. “The short answer for habitability is it means nothing,” he said.

He pointed to Don Juan Pond in Antarctica, which remains liquid year round in subzero temperatures because of high concentrations of calcium chloride salt. “You fly over it, and it looks like a beautiful swimming pool,” Dr. McKay said. “But the water has got nothing.”

We’ve known for a while now that Mars currently holds large reserves of frozen water at its poles, and that it had large oceans billions of years ago. But this discovery will have a huge impact on Martian missions in near future.

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“India’s mission to Mars has overcome a technical problem and appears to be back on track”, India’s space research agency ISRO says.

The problem occurred on Monday when a planned engine burn failed to raise the spacecraft’s orbit around Earth  from 71,623km to 100,000km. A problem with the thruster caused the Mars Craft to fall short of the mark. As a solution, the Mars-craft used an additional thruster firing to make up for the shortfall early on Tuesday.

The Indian Space Research Organisation – ISRO has now pushed the spacecraft to a higher velocity as planned.

“The final orbit will be known in a few hours”

Speaking to Indian news channel NDTV, ISRO’s chairman K Radhakrishnan said: “All is well and operations completed as planned. The final orbit of the spacecraft will be known in a few hours.”

Mr Bagla told BBC News that the “spacecraft has been put on required velocity and seems to be on track”.

Instead of flying directly to Mars, the Mars Craft is scheduled to orbit Earth for nearly a month, building up the speed to “slingshot” its way out of the earth’s gravitational pull to reach its destination – The Red Planet.

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If all goes according to plan, India will soon join an elite handful of countries that have successfully sent a spacecraft to the red planet.

 Today India will launch the unmanned Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan (Mars Craft). It will be launched from SHAR (Satish Dhawan Space Centre) with the help of PSLV. It is expected to take 10 Months for the orbiter to reach its destination – The Red Planet. If this $73 million mission goes well, India would also become the only country to have succeeded in its first try at sending a spacecraft to Mars as two third missions to send space crafts to Mars have been failed.

“We have a lot to understand about the universe, the solar system where we live in, and it has been humankind’s quest from the beginning,” said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the ISRO (Indian Space and Research Organization). “We want to use the first opportunity to put a spacecraft and orbit it around Mars and, once it is there safely, then conduct a few meaningful experiments and energize the scientific community.”

Using solar power instruments, this orbiter will map the planet’s surface. It will collect data about weather and look for the presence of Methane to find out if the Red Planet can sustain life. The research is expected to collaborate with NASA’s Maven probe, which will launch later this month.

If, because of any reason, ISRO will not be able to launch this by November 19th, this project will be delayed by almost 5 years due to Earth’s rotation & Mars’ position in our Galaxy.

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NASA is all set for its next mission to explore Mars named MAVEN – Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. The spacecraft has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center and the  preparations are almost complete. The solar panels have been attached to the spacecraft. After a few final tests, NASA will be ready for the launch of its next mission to the MARS on Nov 18.

Instead of landing on the surface, this spacecraft will orbit the Red Planet to analyze its atmosphere. This will help NASA scientists to analyze how the planet’s atmosphere changed over time. MAVEN is scheduled to reach Mars in Sep 2014.

“The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unraveling the planetary puzzle about Mars’ past and present environments,” NASA’s John Grunsfeld said in a written statement.

India has also scheduled its own Mars Orbiter mission for Nov 2013. These missions will help scientists to understand why Mars lost its atmosphere? A recent study  indicated that most of Mars’ carbon dioxide-based atmosphere may have escaped billions of years ago. If everything goes according to the plan India’s Space Research Organisation will join hands with NASA to explore Red Planet’s Atmosphere.

 

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