First firm evidence for liquid water on Mars

Gwen Vasquez
July 26, 2018

The radar profile of this area is similar to that of lakes of liquid water found beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth, suggesting that there is a subglacial lake at this location on Mars.

What they believe to be a lake sits beneath the Red Planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across.

"It's those salts that keep the water from freezing, familiar to anyone who can drive on ice-free roads in winter after the salt gritters have been at work", he says.

Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water, ' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected.

"This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbour planet and its habitability", said Dmitri Titov, ESA's Mars Express project scientist. Where this water went and how, taking most of Mars' atmosphere with it, is one of the great and ominous environmental mysteries of our time. New radar collections starting in 2012 showed a much stronger signal, Pettinelli said.

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.

"The estimated temperature, which is to be debated to some degree, at the depth at which this water is occurring is said to be 205 K [90˚ F]", said Vlada Stamenković, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It's not clear where the water the Italian team found is coming from, and it's not certain there are any other underground lakes to be found.

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Twenty-two years later, as with every discovery of liquid water on another world, one inevitably asks: Is there life?

Even more amazingly, the Medusae Fossae Formation used to be much, much bigger, but its lightweight, porous composition - vulnerable to erosion over billions of years - means this Medusa is a ghost of her former self. Water is crucial to life as far as we understand it, but it's hard to come by on Mars.

According to early hypotheses, however, the lake is most likely too cold and salty to sustain any sort of life.

The detection was made using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

For the past 12 years MARSIS has mapped the Martian underground using beams of low-frequency radar pulses, which can penetrate up to several kilometers beneath the surface.

"It will require flying a robot there which is capable of drilling through 1.5km of ice". Researchers are keenly interested in such reservoirs since they are reminiscent of subglacial lakes in Antarctica, which are teeming with microbial life.

The question would be, Orosei added, whether any life forms that could have evolved long ago on Mars have found a way to survive until now. 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. "Drilling 1.5km beneath the surface of another planet is hard", says Coates. "Moreover, it provides a valuable confirmation that the water that once flowed abundantly over the Martian surface in the form of seas, lakes and rivers filled the voids in the subsurface".

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