The ongoing debate about whether there could be life on Mars has gotten some positive input. When scientists first discovered there’s ice on the surface, they were elated, because water means life. There could be frozen bacteria under the ice that’s still alive or, even if it’s dead, could give clues to past life on the planet. Then they decided the ice was made of frozen carbon dioxide, which would contain no life. But now they’ve spotted long gullies that could only have been carved by liquid water, so they’re optimistic again.

Philip Christensen, who analyzed images from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, says, “I think we have discovered remnants of snowpacks on Mars that in the recent past have melted. I think if you were to land on one of those and stick a shovel in the ground, you’d be shoveling snow. And if life ever existed on Mars, I can’t think of a more exciting place to possibly go and look.”

He thinks the upper layer of snow is covered with dust, which is why it doesn’t melt. But only a few inches below the snowpack, there?s a lower layer of snow that can melt without evaporating, forming gullies instead. These gullies are in middle of Mars, rather than at the poles, where astronomers have searched for water in the past. Christensen says, “It points to a very dynamic, active Mars.”

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