Water on Mars confounds scientists

Mars. photographed by Viking orbiter.
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NASA has found salt water on Mars. But it will never admit where it came from, or when—specifically, from Earth during the Great Flood.

Where is the water on Mars?

Water on Mars flows down the wall of the Newton crater in Martian summer.

The inside wall of Newton crater on Mars shows an apparent seasonal flow of salty water down the wall. Photo: NASA/JPL/Caltech

The water on Mars lies in several places. The polar regions have abundant ice, often no more than a foot below ground. (The Phoenix Lander found it in one of its first digs.) In June of 2000, the Mars Global Surveyor took pictures of gullies on several high cliffs and crater walls. That evidence alone suggests that water flowed on Mars recently. But more recently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found gullies forming since man started taking close-up pictures of Mars. This confirms an earlier finding by a roving probe called Spirit, that got stuck in the sand but sent back pictures of a crater wall with clear evidence of a seasonal flow of water. (See also here, here, and here.)

These findings of water on Mars have provoked people into speculating—again—about life on Mars. This time they have a right to speculate about that. A seasonal flow of water on Mars, however light, could support microbes, and especially the very hardy microbes called extremophiles. Extremophiles literally love living in extreme conditions that would kill anything else. No one is likely to find any fertile, green valleys like those on earth. But any form of life would be an exciting find.

But NASA has a problem: Where did the water on Mars come from? And how can it possibly flow?

The problem: it’s cold up there!

The temperature on Mars averages 80°F below zero. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit set the zero of his temperature scale at the freezing point of saturated salt solution. Eighty degrees below zero should be cold enough to freeze any water, no matter what it holds in solution.

Yet we see a seasonal flow of water on Mars, and specifically on mountain faces and crater walls that face the equator. No one disputes that. The question, again, is: where did it come from?

Water on Mars cannot stay liquid on the surface. Not in that cold, it can’t. So it must come from below or from above. But if it comes from below, then first one must figure out what makes it warm down below. (We cannot just assume that any planet will have a hot core. We have to know why it’s hot and how hot.) Second, even if Mars has a hot core, the surface is so cold that any water that pushed up to within a mile or two below ground, would freeze.

That leaves water coming from above.

How water came from above.

Obviously liquid water did not cross space and fall as a liquid onto the Martian ground. Instead, balls of ice fell on Mars, melted when they fell, and re-froze. If re-entry would not melt the ice, the impact would. Any object that slams into another, unyielding object will turn all its kinetic energy (the energy of motion) into simple heat. And it will do so in full measure. The First Law of Thermodynamics makes it clear: energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Or in this case: “Heat is work, and work is heat.”

So how can water on Mars flow today? It’s not a matter of the seasons (although it is more likely to happen in summer than in winter). All the gullies have appeared on cliff faces or on crater walls. That is no coincidence. An impact makes a crater. And an impact releases heat.

Walt Brown, at the Center for Scientific Creation, explains it here.

Where the water from Mars came from

The water came to Mars all at once, during the same great bombardment that pockmarked the Moon, gave it its “face,” and locked it to keep that face toward the earth. In the case of Mars, several comets and ice-laden asteroids fell onto Mars and melted. These objects delivered twice as much water as Lake Michigan holds. Some of that water formed pools inside the craters; the rest flowed downhill and caused the erosion patterns that astronomers have seen for years. The water on Mars was enough to cause rain to fall, and even flash flooding.

But Mars was cold then, and is cold today. So the water on Mars did not set up a “water cycle” like that on earth. Today, water flows on Mars only when another object, i.e. a meteor, falls to Mars and melts some of the ice.

So Mars never had an ocean. Nor did the water disappear, as others have speculated before. It’s still on Mars, only frozen, either as blocks of ice or as frost mixed into the soil.

The objects that did the bombardment came from one event that threw vast quantities of water, rock and mud into space. That event was the Great Flood. That’s why the water is salty.

Featured image: a mosaic of Mars from the orbiters of Project Viking. Photo: NASA/Johnson Space Center. See here for guidelines for use.

See NASA video here.