Science

Water is buried beneath Martian landscape, study says

Water is buried beneath Martian landscape, study says”

Between May 2012 and December 2015, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (or "MARSIS" for short) surveyed the region of Mars known as the Planum Australe, a 200-kilometer area on the planet's southern polar plain, which is composed of water ice, Carbon dioxide ice, and admixed dust.

Between 2012 and 2015, MARSIS' ground-penetrating radar conducted a survey of a 120-mile-wide (200-kilometer-wide) zone in the Planum Australe region, just beyond Mars' permanent south polar ice cap.

In a new paper published in Science, a European team of researchers reports that they've found what seems to be "a stable body of liquid water on Mars", right where Clifford predicted it'd be.

It is the largest body of liquid water ever found on the Red Planet. It is believed the planet once was home to rivers and lakes before the climate significantly changed over the course of its 4.6-billion-year history.

"This is the first body of water it has detected, so it is very exciting", David Stillman, a senior research scientist in the Department of Space Studies at Southwest Research Institute in Texas, told AFP in an email.

"It's plausible that the water may be an extremely cold, concentrated brine, which would be pretty challenging for life", Claire Cousins, an astrobiologist from the University of St Andrews, said. The nature of reflections off the subterranean features offer scientists information about exactly what lies beneath the surface and the data says there is liquid water. In the final evenings of this month, the planet looms like a red lantern in the East, just 35,784,871 miles from Earth - the closest it has been in 15 years. The profiles contain "evidence of liquid water trapped below the ice of the South Polar Layered Deposits", according to the study. Along with pressure from the overlying ice, the salts lower the water's freezing point.

For the first time, scientists have found a large, watery lake beneath an ice cap on Mars. "Because of this, there is no reason to conclude that the presence of subsurface water on Mars is limited to a single location".

There are other possible explanations for this sort of signal, but the authors consider and reject them. It will also interest those studying the possibilities for life beyond Earth - though it does not yet raise the stakes in the search for biology. Subsurface imaging relies on the fact that borders between materials with different properties will bounce back a portion of the incoming radar signal.

The discovery was made using a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, which launched in 2003. SHARAD has been observing the subsurface of Mars since 2006.

Green said that a lander mission called InSight that's already on its way to Mars might be able to help provide corroborating evidence.

"For more than three decades, planetary scientists have wondered whether that similarity extends to hidden lakes beneath the ice-caps, as we find under Earth's Antarctic ice-sheet".



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