A study published Monday in Nature Geoscience suggests that boiling saline water on Mars may be responsible for ridges seen on red planet’s surface.

After analyzing streaky, dark marks that appear periodically on Mar’s surface, scientists confirmed that liquid water on Mars exists in small quantities, but only as a boiling liquid during the warmest time of day in summer. The findings show that streaks may form when boiling water causes grains of sand to gurgle and pop off of the surface.

Researchers found evidence of hydrated salts, including magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate, which counts for the first time flowing water has been found on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA

The water of Mars starts boiling as soon as it emerges from the surface, creating an unstable, turbulent flow, which can eject sediment and cause dry avalanches, said scientists from National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Universite de Nantes and Universite Paris-Sud in France in the study.

Just the flow of small amount of boiling liquid is enough to significantly alter the surface of the red planet. However, researchers described the role of boiling liquid water on Mar’s surface as insignificant.

Researchers led by Marion Massé of the University of Nantes set up a special chamber to mimic the conditions of a Martian summer day. Unlike Earth, in Mars water can boil at 32 degrees Fahrenheit –same temperature that would make water freeze on Earth –. This phenomenon occurs because the atmosphere of the red planet is incredibly thin and, in consequence, its pressure is very slow.

The experiments

Massé and her colleagues replicated the conditions of a Martian summer day. They used a block of ice for the experiment and right after it melted into the sand, the liquid water started boiling up from below the surface. Grains of sandblasted into the air due the boiling, then those sandy bubbles fall down the hill and formed ridges. Streaks similar to those seen on Mars appeared as the remaining water speed down the ridges.

According to The Washington Post, these findings could provide another explanation for how water might create Mar’s streaks. Still, scientists noted that Mars could actually be dryer than it looks because experiments showed that very little water was required for the process.

Researchers point to the fact that they couldn’t replicate Martian gravity, meaning that the -Mars chamber wasn’t a perfect facsimile, so the results they got can’t be considered as definitive. Besides, the experiment only intended to study the way water’s behavior under summer temperatures, but the streaks have been seen even when Mar’s temperature is cooler than that, National Geographic reported.

Source: Nature