Yes, but which mystery? NASA chose to tease the public by issuing a press release promising big news about Mars at a Monday press conference. Speculation, as you can imagine, is running rampant in the scientific community. Did they find signs of life either past or present?
One thing is sure, it better be good. NASA has raised expectations so that nothing less than Mars-shattering news will justify the dog and pony show on Monday.
No further details are available on the nature of the mystery. However, the lineup for the Monday press conference sports top agency authorities, including NASA director of planetary science Jim Green and lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program Michael Meyer.
The other guests, relatively unknown researchers from American universities, led the science and tech publication Inverse to speculate.
“Our best guess: flowing water, and the potential for alien life,” the publication wrote late Thursday.
That’s because on of NASA’s featured Monday speakers, Georgia Tech grad student Lujendra Ojha, doesn’t quite match the high profile of the NASA leadership hosting the conference. But, Inverse notes, Ojha was responsible in 2011 for the discovery of “possible flows of salt water on Mars.”
According to a 2011 CNN report, native Nepali Ojha used a computer algorithm to remove visual distortions from satellite images of Mars, and notices slim snaky features that moved over time. All he could guess is that they were water.
“There’s going to be years of research put into this to even prove that this is definitely proof of water. And from that, we can move on: OK if this is water, what are the chances that life could be in these kinds of surroundings?” he told CNN.
Most scientists already agree that the canyons and gullies that cover the Martian surface were once carved by water that flowed across the planet’s now-desolate surface. Now the plant’s poles also sport massive caps of frozen water. But one mystery persists: what happened?
Liquid water on Mars would be a groundbreaking discovery, imagined by scientists for over a century, at least since Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli captivated the world when he announced the discovery of a massive infrastructure of canals criss-crossing the Martian surface in 1877.
That wasn’t true, of course. Schiaparelli’s crude telescope offered him the sight of a blurry blob constantly moving in distortion.
Actually, Schiaperelli found what he described as canalis, which translates into English as “channels.” It hardly mattered because Schiaperelli saw an optical illusion.
So, is flowing water a big deal? It’s very big. There are several moons in the solar system, including Europa near Jupiter and Enceladus near Saturn, where cracks in the icy surface of what is believed to be massive oceans might suggest liquid water. Because of its binding properties with organic molecules, the presence of liquid water is tantalizingly suggestive that life could be present.
We won’t get any definitive answers on Monday. It will be many months with other scientists testing and retesting that hypothesis before any certainty can be added to the theory. But for amateur space enthusiasts, it only makes us salivate about getting people on board a ship as soon as possible and getting them to Mars.