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探索火星新發現 地表夏季有水流動

中央社/ 2015.09.28 00:00
(中央社紐約28日綜合外電報導)美國國家航空暨太空總署稍後將召開記者會,宣布探索火星的重大發現,根據新公布的研究報告,科學家首度發現證據,顯示火星在夏季幾個月期間,可能有水在地表上流動。

路透社報導,雖然這些水的來源和化學成分仍不明,美國國家航空暨太空總署(NASA)仍發出新聞,宣告「解開了火星的一個謎」,並計畫於美東時間今晨11時30分就此事召開記者會。1040928

Although the source and the chemistry of thewater is unknown, the discovery could affect thinking about whether the planet that is most like Earth in the solar system could support present day microbial life.

Scientists developed a new technique to analyze chemical maps of the Martian surface obtained by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.

They found telltale fingerprints of salts that form only in the presence of water in narrow channels cut into cliff walls throughout the planet's equatorial region.

The slopes, first reported in 2011, appear during the warm summer months on Mars, then vanish when the temperatures drop.

Scientists suspected the streaks, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSL, were cut by flowing water, but had previously been unable tomake the measurements.

"I thought there was no hope," Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at Georgia Institute ofTechnology and lead author of a paper in this week's issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, told Reuters.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter makes its measurements during the hottest part of the Martian day, so scientists believed any traces of water, or fingerprints from hydrated minerals, would have evaporated.

Also, the chemical-sensing instrument on theorbiting spacecraft cannot home in on details assmall as the narrow streaks, which typically areless than 16 feet (5 meters) wide.

But Ojha and colleagues created a computer program that could scrutinize individual pixels.That data was then correlated with high-resolution images of the streaks. Scientists concentrated on the widest streaks and came up with a 100 percent match between their locations and detections of hydrated salts.

"We're not claiming that we found ... evidence of liquid water. We found hydrated salts," Ojha said.

Still, that was enough for NASA, which declared a "Mars mystery solved," in a press advisory. A press conference on it was planned for 11:30 a.m. EDT/1530 GMT on Monday.

"It's a little bit over-the-top announcementby NASA," Ojha said. "There's so many mysteries to be solved about RSL."

The discovery "confirms that water is playing a role in these features," added Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist with Arizona StateUniversity. "We don't know that it's coming fromthe subsurface. It could come from the atmosphere.'

Whatever the water's source, the prospect ofliquid water, even seasonally, raises the intriguing prospect that Mars, which is presumedto be a cold and dead planet, could support lifetoday. Much more information about the water's chemistry, however, would be needed before scientists could make that assessment, McEwen added. "It's not necessarily habitable just because it's water - at least to terrestrial organisms," he said. NASA's ongoing Mars rover Curiosity has found evidence that Mars had all the ingredients and suitable habitats for microbial life to exist at some point in its past. Scientists have been trying to figure out how it transformed from a warm, wet and likely Earth-like planet early in its history into the cold, dry desert that exists today. Billions of years ago, Mars, which lacks a protective, global magnetic field, lost much of its atmosphere. Several initiatives are under way todetermine how much of the planet's water was stripped away and how much remains locked in icein underground reservoirs.

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