After NASA announced on Monday that it had found evidence of water on Mars, Chinese scientists were quick to discuss how the findings would effect the chances of life on the red planet.
"It was unexpected," said Zhu Jin, curator of Beijing Planetarium, adding that the news had given new life to conversations about Mars, and the possibility of humans eventually settling on the Red Planet.
"Liquid water is a must for life, thus, this new discovery increases the chance of life existing -- at present or in the past," said Gou Lijun, a researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Chinese Academy of Science.
Gou, also one of the translators of the book "The Science of Interstellar", which explains the science in the sci-fi movie "Interstellar", added that the possibility of life existing on Mars was still a grey area.
Over the last half century, human beings have sent dozens of missions to the Earth's distant neighbor, from flybys and orbiters, which gathered information from a distance, to rovers, which have landed and explored its surface. NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars around 2030.
Compared with other planets in the Solar System and extrasolar planets thousands of light years away from Earth, we know a lot more about Mars, said Zheng Yongchun, deputy researcher with National Astronomical Observatories of China.
"Though NASA's announcement was not as big, as say, 'finding Martians', it is significant." Zheng added.
Several years ago, high resolution optical equipment on a Mars orbiter mission captured images of dark streaks in meteorite craters. Many speculated that they had been made by fluid, Lin said.
"This has been finally proved by the imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter," Lin explained, as researchers detected that signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes overlapped the former mysterious streaks.
When talking about water on Mars, scientists have tended to believe that sometime in the past 3 billion years, the planet turned cold and dry, freezing water into ice, Lin continued, "the new findings prove water is still in liquid form."
But could the liquid support life?
According to Lin Yangting, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics under the Academy of Sciences, the hydrated minerals on Mars are mostly perchlorate salts, which are harmful to life on Earth. "It could kill most microorganisms," he added.
Zheng Yongchun agreed with Lin, saying that the perchlorate salts were poisonous, and could lead to deformities. He maintained, however, that poisonous water is much better than none at all, "because without water, astronauts could not survive".
Compared with transporting water all the way from Earth to Mars, it's much cheaper to use technology to turn poisonous water into clean liquid, Zheng continued.
The next task for scientists is to find the source of the briny liquid water and measure its volume.