Large Underground Lake Detected Below Mars Ice Cap, Study Says
26 July, 2018, 15:46
Some forms of microbial life are known to thrive in Earth's subglacial environments, but could underground pockets of salty, sediment-rich liquid water on Mars also provide a suitable habitat, either now or in the past?
Researchers from the Italian Space Agency say they used radar to detect the lake under the planet's southern polar ice cap.
The find is consistent with what scientists have been saying for years about the prospects for subsurface water on Mars, and is likely to give a boost to the search for Red Planet life.
This finding makes it more likely that there will be "not just extinct life but extant life", he says.
Jonathan Lunine, director of the Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University, who was not involved with the research, said the finding transforms Mars from a dusty planet to yet another "ocean world" in the solar system.
Then, they were reflected back to the radar aboard the Mars Express, providing geological information on the portion of planet under examination.
He noted that a higher-frequency radar instrument made by the Italian space agency, SHARAD, on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005, has been unable to detect subsurface water.
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The radar brightness alone isn't enough to prove that liquid water is responsible.
A team of researchers led by Roberto Orosei of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Bologna, Italy, surveyed a region called Planum Australe, located in the southern ice cap of Mars, from May 2012 until December 2015.
The forces allowing water to pool under Antarctic ice explain how the same phenomenon can happen on Mars, according to a research paper, published on Wednesday (July 25) in the journal Science.
"They haven't seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years", he said. They were not the first successful landing-that credit belongs to the Soviet Union's Mars 3 lander-but they were the first landers to complete their task, which was to directly sample the surrounding soil, rocks and air while looking for signs of life. But early in its promising existence the planet somehow lost its way, transforming into a desiccated orb of dried-up ocean-, river- and lakebeds. Still, the water that once flowed across the land had to go somewhere. This is a milestone in the 54 years of Mars space exploration. Now it appears not all of that buried watery wealth is frozen after all. But there hasn't been evidence of stable bodies of water until now, the researchers said.
Lake beds like those explored by Nasa's Curiosity rover show water was present on the surface of Mars in the past.
Scientists from the National Institute for Astrophysics say it's the first conclusive proof that H2O exists there now, even though there's evidence of it having been there in the past.
"Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form", Orosei said. If the lake also contains salt deposits, the melting point is reduced even more and keeps the water flowing even at below-freezing temperatures. MARSIS's wavelength is over 300 feet and can penetrate deeper, whereas SHARAD's is 50 feet and scours closer to the surface. "If martian life is like Earth life, this is too cold and too salty".
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