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Origins and Behaviour of Water on Mars

Mars has always been a topic of interest among scientists. Since the NASA Viking mission in the 1970s, multiple microorganisms have been found on the surface of Mars. It was thought that the Mars mantle was dry due to geological evidence. However, many scientists have discovered that there may be water on the surface of Mars.


With the Earth slowly deteriorating, many want to know if human life can inhabit Mars. Most of the methods that tried to understand the behaviour of water on Mars, used an environmental chamber to test the Mars-simulated water at different temperatures. However, an even more important question posed is whether it is possible to grow crops on the planet for life to persist. 


For many years, the planet of Mars has been fascinating yet mysterious. The public has been clamouring to know more about it. Since the debut Viking Mission to Mars in 1976, scientists have been discovering a multitude of living microorganisms on the Martian surface. This research aims to show the current and past studies on the origin and behaviour of water on Mars. Given Earth's current state of overpopulation and worsening climate crisis, scientists have increased research endeavours, to determine if other planets have the potential for habitation.


Discoveries state that the surface of Mars does not allow for liquid water due to the temperature and surface pressure. The investigation of the amount of water on Mars has been underway since the 1970s. There is geological evidence that since the planet’s mantle is dry, Mars has lost all its water supply through accretion. However, in 2000, the MGS (Mars Global Surveyor) discovered that there may be water temporarily flowing on the surface.


Kahn (1985) proposed that there are transient pockets of liquid water on the surface. This has been occurring throughout Mars’ history. It is the consequence of irreversible carbonate formation. The moisture pockets have been forming due to the CO2 pressure which is almost at its limit, stagnating water formation.


At this point, carbonate formation halts, and the surface pressure balances. Extensive simulated studies have been conducted on this topic. However, it is impossible to be definite about conclusions, due to the lack of on-ground testing.  



To better understand water formation at Martian pressure, Michael H. Hecht conducted many experiments. In one experiment, Hecht used a vacuum chamber with an oil-free pump and dry nitrogen purge. In addition to that, a stainless-steel Dewar was filled with cold de-ionized water and put in the chamber. With a camcorder outside of the chamber, he watched the humidity of the chamber. To prevent the water from boiling, Hecht had to keep the water temperature at or near 0º C.


In another experiment done by Fischer, Martinez, Elliott, and Renno, they wanted to understand the habitability of Mars by studying the formation of liquid brines from the amount of salt found on the Mars surface. Another environmental chamber was used to measure the temperature of the CO2 pressure and humidity.


Two sets of experiments were conducted. The first investigated the salt when exposed to water vapor. The second experiment was carried out to observe the formation of liquid brines when a layer of salt is placed in contact with a layer of water ice, like in the Martian subsurface found by the NASA Phoenix mission of 2008. For both experiments, the CO2 atmosphere was kept with water vapor. In the first experiment, the temperature was set at -50 ºC in the chamber. And in the second experiment, the salt was placed on top of a layer of water ice, temperature was raised to simulate the temperature of the Martian subsurface.


Lastly, it is important to determine if humans can settle on Mars and eat. Wamelink, Frissel, Krijnen, Verwoert, and Goedhart investigated if there was a possibility of growing plants on Mars using Mars soil simulants. Several small pots were filled with 50 g of Mars soil, and 25 grams of demineralized water. In each pot, there were five plant seeds. They were then placed in a glasshouse and a petri dish to hold the water, preventing roots from growing into the other pots. The temperature inside the glasshouse stayed at 20 ºC and the pots were watered twice a day.


The results found by Hecht provide that large bubbles form with cooling. There were only a small amount of dissolved gas bubbles forming until the surface froze. It also helped ascertain the effect of reduction in atmospheric pressure. The atmospheric pressure set evaporative cooling in motion. thus, leading to freezing. Crystals of ice formed on the surface. After ten minutes of pumping, the surface layer continued to grow thicker by a few millimeters.


The results found by Fischer, Martinez, Elliott, and Renno showed that salts in contact with ice form liquid brines when the ground temperatures are above the salt’s temperatures. The atmospheric water vapor is the only source of water. Liquid brines are more likely to form in a subsurface since the heating of the ground by the temperature of the Martian surface.


Results found by Wamelink and the rest of the authors suggested that the Martian soil simulant is the highest germination percentage.


It also showed that the Martian soil simulants were able to grow and germinate for 50 days without any addition of nutrients. Compared to the other simulants tested like those on the moon and earth, Mars was much better at growing and flowering.


With what was established through the experiments, Mars’ water froze as expected. For the experiments involving the environmental chambers, the liquid water was metastable. According to Hecht, evaporation at 0º C on Mars is comparable to the evaporation at 60 ºC on Earth. However, it is difficult to predict what water on Mars would be like due to the lack of information and authentic testing.


Since the Mars soil simulants in the Wamelink experiment produced crops, It can be stated that Martian soil is more abundant for germination and plant growth.



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