Large Liquid Water Lake Just Discovered Beneath the Surface of Mars

Ismael LynchJul 28, 2018

Evidence for Mars' watery past is prevalent across its surface in the form of vast dried-out river valley networks and very big outflow channels clearly imaged by orbiting spacecraft.

Radar data collected by ESA's Mars Express point to a pond of liquid water buried under layers of ice and dust in the south polar region of Mars. For that matter, Orosei said, "this is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered".

The discovery was made by using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. GPR works by sending electromagnetic waves towards the ground and timing how long it takes for them to return.

The water on Mars is likely to be significantly colder than in Antarctica.

Between May 2012 and December 2015, MARSIS was used to survey the Planum Australe region, which is in the southern ice cap of Mars.

Thr team obtained 29 sets of radar samplings, mapping out an area exhibiting a very sharp change in its associated radar signal, about 1.5 km below the surface of the ice and extending sideways about 20 km.

"This condition on Earth happens only when you observe subglacial water like in Antarctica over places like Lake Vostok, " he added.

Liquid water is an essential requirement for life as we understand it.

And in this case, the scans produced a "radar profile... similar to that of lakes of liquid water beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth". Credits: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State University, ESA, INAF.

The finding, if confirmed, will provide new insight into Mars' climate history, spur a search for other subsurface water sources, provide a possible resource if people ever travel to the planet - and help focus the ever-hopeful search for signs of Martian life, past or present.

Mars Express scientists Roberto Orosei and his team found a 12.5 mile patch of Mars with high permittivity-so high that the numbers like that are nearly always associated with liquid water, including lakes lurking under glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

What they believe to be a lake sits beneath the Red Planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across. Mars is famously rich in magnesium, calcium, and sodium which could have all dissolved into the water, forming a brine and dropping the freezing point of water much lower. The saltier the water, the colder it has to be to turn into ice. Now, with the announcement of a "huge reservoir of liquid water", the Red Planet is back on its bullshit.

Unlike many Mars discoveries, this particular revelation is all but definitive.

Outside experts have not been able to confirm these findings with other radar detections, like SHARAD, the Shallow Radar sounder onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Bramson said the Mars radar community remained curious about why SHARAD didn't detect water below the south pole. It's the most obvious question on everyone's mind right now. Further, it is a real lake - as opposed to simple runoff from the massive ice above it.

"This is where we get sufficient protection from harmful radiation, and the pressure and temperature rise to more favourable levels".

Dr Jonathan Lunine, director of the Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University, noted, "If it is liquid water, the intense saltiness would make it hard for life, at least life as known on Earth, to survive in the lake".

"This finding is potentially of enormous significance", says Clifford, who was not involved with the study.

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