MIT’s Mars experts are giddy about the planet’s water discovery (

Image of mountain range or hills with swirling pattern of light and dark streaks.

In this image of Mars, the dark downhill streaks indicate the presence of flowing water. (Courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.)

This week’s announcement by NASA confirming liquid water flowing on the surface of Mars is big news. Several MIT faculty who study Mars shared their thoughts with’s Eric Levenson:

“I’m excited about this,” said Kerri Cahoy, an MIT assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics who has done research for NASA. “They have made, in my opinion, a milestone step forward.”

J. Taylor Perron, an MIT Associate Professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, has studied the ancient history of water on Mars. The planet’s terrain shows evidence that it once had rivers and lakes, and possibly an ocean, billions of years ago, which have long since dried up.

“The new thing and the exciting thing about this discovery is that liquid water is still flowing now, even though Mars, otherwise, is basically a cold desert,” Perron said. “News like this, that hopefully gets people excited about Mars, is fantastic.”

Ben Weiss, an MIT Professor of Planetary Sciences, has focused his study on Mars’s ancient magnetic field, which died billions of years ago. He and other scientists have hypothesized that the magnetic field’s death is related to the destruction of the planet’s atmosphere and climate.

“This kind of discovery reopens the possibility that Mars is not some kind of dead body,” Weiss said. “To actually see liquid water or at least a brine flowing on the surface, that’s kind of mind-blowing.

Read the full story > 

Like to learn more?  Start with these introductory courses on OCW by Professors Perron and Weiss.

  • 12.001 Introduction to Geology, co-taught by Prof. Perron and Prof. Oliver Jagoutz introduces students to geological study through lecture, lab, and fieldwork.  The OCW course includes lecture notes, image galleries, and extensive instructor commentary on how they teach this course.
  • 12.002 Physics and Chemistry of the Terrestrial Planets, co-taught by Prof. Weiss and Prof. Leigh Royden, introduces the structure, composition, and physical properties of the planets, including Mars.

2 thoughts on “MIT’s Mars experts are giddy about the planet’s water discovery (

  1. Both Earth and Mars was very hot for a moment, both Earth and Mas had scored the static process by our source by Sun. Earth is closer, Venus more close and on Venus is coal, but water can exist as separated ions of both oxygen and hydrogenium, water as a liquid within Venus sounds only as a kind of gas, but on Mars, Earth is hotter within the core, Mars is also pretty interesting … As I see researches within this issue was made by for instance Coriolis, Gutenberg and Lehmann … Pretty interesting is for instance “natural velocity”, temparture and logic within understanding Mars can by divided by legth and time of Sun and different ions, Earth must be similar, this is funny comparable to the cooked and frozen food like eggs etc … I am looking forward to finding new pictures and conclusions … Maybe we can really bring and leave animals on this planet and it can be not the very, very hard job …


  2. The strongest evidence for water on Mars, in my opinion, was found by an MIT group in 1963 and 1965 using a 38.25 MHz radar near El Campo, Texas. See a report in Infinite Energy, Volune 11, Issue 64, Nov Dec 2005, Page 26, “Radar evidence for underground liquid water on Mars. The Technical Editor for Infinite Energy at the time was Dr. William Cantrell who now is in Lexington working for Lincoln Laboratory.
    James H. Chisholm was responsible for the El Camo radar. He was leader of Grooup 33, the Radio Propagation Group. A very powerful UHF-VHF transmitter was installed in the mid 1950s to study tropo scatter propagation. Dr.Kerr in Australia wrote a paper outlining what was required to study the sun. The El Campo transmitter and location were very good (low noise region, flat ground, and low latitude) so Jim Chisholm built a large phased array and sent a crew of men to Texas and we started seeing the sun. In January, 1963, we halted solar runs temporarily to look at Mars. One day in late January we received a strong echo, so upon Chisholm’s suggestion I telephoned JPL and learned that they were trying to see Mars but had not yet seen an echo. I also sent a request to present our results at the next URSI conference in DC in April. We saw no more strong returns from Mars during that series of runs at Mars’ close approach. At the URSI conference I made no claim of detecting Mars because we did not repeat the measurement in January. This was a mistake on my part. I should have just reported the result and let it go at that. Had I been smarter, i could have mentioned that maybe moisture below the surface of Mars can be found at a few locations. This is what happened in 1965 when we again looked at Mars. The locations on Mars (the sub-radar points) have slightly darkened bands where the echoes were strong. Furthermore, the strong echo was received from the same point on Mars twice, but one month apart. Each successive night we saw a different longitude of Mars, so after about one month we saw the a same point again. JPL used a 2388 MHz radar that did not penetrate Mars’ surface very much and that was less sensitive to conductivity that our 38.25 MHz radar.


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