Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NASA finds evidence of water on Mars
Posted: June 21, 2000 [Updated: 1900 GMT]

Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL
Confirming what scientists had long theorized, NASA will announce Thursday that water has been found on Mars. A press conference is planned for 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) and Spaceflight Now will provide a live QuickTime streaming video broadcast.

The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft currently orbiting the planet made the detection. MGS was launched in 1996 to map the Martian surface.

NASA had planned to hold the press conference at a later date, but the space agency issued a media advisory today that said recent news reports about the discovery were "incorrect in significant areas." That prompted NASA to move up the briefing.

Rumors about the discovery were initially reported by the NASA Watch Web site earlier this week, which said the White House had been briefed on a major finding by MGS. The site later reported a paper was being prepared for the upcoming issue of the journal Science.

NASA's long-term Mars exploration program, which suffered the loss of two robotic missions last year, has been geared toward finding water on Earth's neighbor. Vast oceans are believed to have once flowed on Mars and scientists have suspected some water might still be trapped below the planet's surface.

The ill-fated Mars Polar Lander probe was headed for the Martian south pole last December to dig for water ice just below the surface. But the craft crashed.

The discovery of present-day liquid water potentially has profound implications about whether there is or was life on the Red Planet.

Water is considered the cornerstone to life, and NASA's Mars research efforts have been dedicated to find evidence of past of present water. Such a finding of water, space agency officials have said, would be a major step forward in answering the question of where life has ever existed on the planet closest to Earth.