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Features \ Science & Environment

Vatican Astronomer: Liquid water on Mars is an exciting discovery

Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, shows visitors the globe of planet Mars from the collection of the Vatican Observatory. - AP

Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, shows visitors the globe of planet Mars from the collection of the Vatican Observatory. - AP

29/09/2015 14:30

(Vatican Radio) NASA scientists on Monday announced the planet Mars appears to have flowing rivulets of water, at least in the summer.

In 2008, it was confirmed frozen water exists on the planet, but this new discovery bolsters the chance that life might exist on Mars, since liquid water is essential to life on Earth.

“You can see the water flowing in real time,” said Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, the Director of the Vatican Observatory, who called the discovery exciting.

Listen to the interview by Ann Schneible with Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ: 

“You can see the traces of the rivers changing over the course of a Martian year. So we are not talking about water that was there a long time ago or water that is frozen under the surface, but actual liquid water on the surface,” he told Vatican Radio. “Of course, the air is so thin that it will evaporate right away, but it is enough water in there long enough to move stuff around.”

NASA also said the possible rivulets appear to be made up of salty, wet soil.

 “It’s brine,” explained Br. Consolmagno.

“Therefore, it tells us that this is actively interacting with the soil, and the kind of interactions and the kind of chemistry that goes on to make brine is not inconsistent with the possibility of some sort of microbial life underneath the surface,” he said. “It is by no means a proof of it, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.”

The Vatican astronomer said the search for life in the universe is fascinating, because we have only one example: Earth.

“We have no idea whether life is so rare that it never occurs anywhere, or so common that is occurs everywhere, and that’s why we have to look at places life could be to see just how rare or how common it actual is,” he said.

But Brother Consolmagno also said the possibility of life on Mars should not be a cause of a crisis of faith among Catholics on Earth. Quite the contrary, he said the determination of whether or not life exists on other planets would tell us something about God.

“The important thing is to recognize that the universe is created by God, and however God did it tells us something about God’s personality,” he said.

“If God chose to make a universe where we are the only creatures, that is interesting, that tells us something about God and us,” Br. Consolmagno said.  “If God creates a universe where life is everywhere, that gives us a different picture of God, but in either way, we learn more about Who the Creator is.”

29/09/2015 14:30