Huge water 'lake' under surface of Mars

Jan Cross
July 28, 2018

For the first time, scientists have detected a lake of salty water under the Martian ice, a study released Wednesday said.

"This lake, if it really is there, would be a prime place to look for life - after all, we have similar things on Earth, like the lakes buried beneath Antarctica, and life has been found to exist and thrive down there".

The subglacial lake on Mars was found by the European Space Agency's Mars Express and measures 12.4 miles in length.

The tool is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS), and was created to find subsurface water by sending radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps.

But dissolved salts of magnesium, calcium, and sodium - known to be present in Martian rocks - are thought to maintain the briny miniature sea by reducing the melting point of water to minus 74C. The character of the signals even helped the researchers distinguish between water and carbon dioxide ice, an alternate explanation for the radar signals seen by MARSIS over the last 13 years.

The ISA team's findings will appear in this week's issue of the journal Science, they will reignite speculation about the planet's geology and the potential for life on Mars.

Information was gathered by what's known as the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, which was deployed on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, according to the agency.

The scientists expect the water is very salty, otherwise it would freeze.

Credit Getty
Credit Getty

Radio waves beamed down to the surface by Marsis penetrated through the ice and bounced back to the spacecraft.

"This is certainly not a very pleasant environment for life", he said.

Among the 29 radar samplings, the scientists spotted a series of unusually strong reflections bearing a distinct electrical hallmark.

A team of researchers led by Roberto Orosei of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Bologna, Italy, surveyed a region called Planum Australe, located in the southern ice cap of Mars, from May 2012 until December 2015.

Researchers said they are not sure how far down it goes, but that it may be around three feet (one meter) deep.

Chevrier said he also wanted to know how old the body of water might be.

However, Stillman, who was not involved in the research, said another spacecraft, or other instruments, need to be able to confirm the discovery.

"This suggests that something unusual is going on here". Though the mission has been in progress since 2003, this is their first major piece of evidence that liquid water now exists anywhere on the red planet.

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