Giant liquid water lake found under Martian ice

Jul 29, 2018, 03:41
Giant liquid water lake found under Martian ice

Assured of their discovery, they published their findings in Science on Wednesday. But now, after analyzing data collected by the Mars Express orbiter over the past 15 years, scientists have come to the stunning conclusion that there is liquid water underneath the South Pole of the planet.

The discovery was made using MARSIS, a ground-penetrating radar tool aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Judging from how radar signals beamed down to Mars bounced back to the spacecraft, the scientists believe they're seeing a 20-kilometer wide shallow body of water, capped by 1.5 kilometers of hard ice. Subsurface echo power is color coded and deep blue corresponds to the strongest reflections, which are interpreted as being caused by the presence of water.

Scientists still don't know just how much or how deep the water is on the planet. If the lake also contains salt deposits, the melting point is reduced even more and keeps the water flowing even at below-freezing temperatures.

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If large bodies of liquid water lie beneath Martian polar ice, they could theoretically harbour living microbes to this day.

The area is similar to that of lakes found beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth, which also were detected using radar scans. (AAP) A provided image shows an artist's impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of the red planet.

Theoretically, this water could have allowed microbes that have evolved to thrive in saltier conditions a chance at existence, though Orosei believes any potential Martian life would have "not a very pleasant" experience.

He said: "Magnesium, calcium, and sodium could be dissolved in the water to form a brine".

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Before we get too excited about drilling 1.5km into the poles of Mars to look for ice, however, we'll probably want independent confirmation that this high-reflectivity region shows up consistently and behaves as if it's liquid water. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.

Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper said, "This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", in an ESA statement.

In 2015, the appearance of Mars as a desolate, dry, lifeless planet was significantly challenged after a team of researchers announced it had discovered evidence of running liquid water on its surface. Learning more about these caps can reveal Mars' climate history. After that, the discovery of a liquid lake is groundbreaking news.

Marsis was not able to measure the depth of lake, but the scientists estimate that it must be at least one metre thick.

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