The scientific community is in speculation overdrive ahead of a scheduled Monday announcement by NASA of a "major science finding" related to Mars.
The specific nature of the discovery won't be revealed until a scheduled 11:30 a.m. ET press conference at NASA headquarters in Washington. However, the roster of participants includes two authors of a paper that claimed images taken from orbit show flowing water on the surface of the Red Planet, prompting rumors that the announcement relates to the possible discovery of water in its liquid form.
Those authors — Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment at the University of Arizona in Tucson — published their paper on the subject in 2011, when Ojha was still an undergraduate at the University of Arizona.
Scientists have long known that there is frozen water at Mars' poles, but they have never discovered liquid water. Any such discovery would have huge consequences for future expeditions, including NASA's goal of sending a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s.
"If they’re announcing that they’ve found easily accessible, freely flowing liquid water under the surface — which is one of the theories we’ve been hearing for years and years — that has massive implications both for the potential for life on that planet and sustainability of humans," Doug McCuistion, the former head of NASA’s Mars program, told the Boston Herald. "That would be highly enabling and might be the game-changing trigger for both finding life and hurrying up and getting people to Mars."
"Based on the people who are speaking and what their backgrounds are ... it would seem to imply they have a discovery concerning these mysterious outflows that come from the cliffsides on Mars," Chris Carberry, executive director of the Massachusetts-based non-profit Explore Mars, told the Herald. "If they do confirm this is water that’s seasonally flowing ... that would be an amazing discovery with dramatic implications
McCuistion added that the discovery of flowing water would significantly decrease the burden on NASA to provide adequate oxygen and water to sustain a human crew.