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Some signs of water on Mars may have just dried up.

Thanks to the way data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are handled, the spacecraft may be seeing signs of hydrated salts that aren’t really there, planetary scientists report online November 9 in Geophysical Research Letters.

That lack of salts could mean that certain sites proposed as places where life could exist on Mars today, including purported streaks of liquid water on the walls of Martian craters, are probably dry and lifeless.

“People think these environments might be inhabitable by microbes,” says planetary scientist Ellen Leask of Caltech. But “there might not actually be any real evidence for it,” at least not from orbit.

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