In a press conference just before noon, NASA announced the presence of both liquid water and ice on the surface of Mars. The discovery was a result of observations made by Mars orbiters that suggested seasonal movement of water, as evidenced by dark streaks disappearing and reappearing in regular intervals. The results were confirmed by orbital spectrometry, which detected the presence of chlorine salts responsible for keeping the water in its liquid form.
The search for water on Mars has been spearheaded by Lujendra Ojha, a planetary-science whiz kid whose undergrad independent-study project first spotted the streaks in 2011.
When asked whether this confirms life on Mars, Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA, had managed expectations: “We have found life everywhere there is water on Earth … Now we have a better idea of where to focus our search.”
Scientists present at the press conference were hopeful about what the discovery means for the viability of manned missions to Mars. The presence of water opens the possibility that it could be purified, lessening the load astronauts would need to bring with them on expeditions. Astronaut John Grunsfeld hinted at the possibility that the Martian water could be refined not only as drinking water, but also be used to make solid fuel for a return trip.
For many years, astronomers had assumed there were oceans on Mars and saw evidence of canals, giving rise to the theories of Martians.
Update: Ridley Scott, director of the Matt-Damon-stranded-on-Mars movie, knew about Mars water months ago, thanks to the higher-ups at NASA, but it was too late to change the film.