Astrobiologist Nilton Renno, who was co-investigator for NASA's 2007 Phoenix mission, joined us today to tell us about his latest project: using an experimental chamber that replicates the environmental conditions on Mars to test whether it's possible for liquid water to form.
But, if as the experiment suggests it is possible, what might we do with that water? Could it potentially be a source of drinking water for explorers to tap from? Probably not, says Renno:
The salts found on Mars that can make liquid water at very low temperatures are called perchlorates. They are not good for our health. Thus, it is not safe to drink the saline water that might be present on Mars. Moreover, we expect to find only small amounts of liquid water near the surface, droplets not lakes.
All, however, is not quite lost for any future space colonists out there, hoping to find a water source a little closer than a shuttle ride away:
There is a large amount of ice on Mars that could be easily melted to supply liquid water for a settlement. There is lots of water ice on the shallow subsurface of Mars, even in mid-latitudes. Water ice could be easily melted to produce liquid water.
Image: Artist's conception of Mars exploration, Paul Hudson / NASA