Liquid water on Mars
Researchers believe they have discovered that there is a persistent body of water beneath the south polar ice cap on Mars. What does this mean for life on the Red Planet?
Scientists have discovered a “a stable body of liquid water on Mars, in what some call a “game changer” in the quest for extraterrestrial life.
What is believed to be liquid water below Mars’ southern polar ice cap and is described as a “well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone.” 20 km is about 12.5 km.
The findings, which are published in the journal Science, were made possible by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the Mars Express spacecraft. MARSIS is examined Mars’ Ground Australe region between May 2012 and December 2015 and used radar pulses, and sends them through the surface, and the polar ice caps, ultimately measuring how the radio waves came back.
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The pulses that came back made the aforementioned “well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone,” and found that the radar was an expression of the brightness of the liquid water. The study’s abstract notes that it is surrounded by much less reflective areas”, a sign that it is indeed water.
The team that wrote the study, including lead author Professor Roberto Orosei, exclude other causes for the brightness.
The interview with the BBC, It said that it’s probably not “a very large lake,” but he added that this is a body of water and not drainage of a glacier or something else.
“This really qualifies this as a body of water. A more, any form of meltwater filling the space between the rock and ice, as happens in certain glaciers on Earth,” Orosei told the British media giant.
After the news of the findings, social media was incredibly enthusiastic, with a number of wondering what it could mean for the search for extraterrestrial life.
Friends, this is not your annual “we found water on Mars” kind of announcement. This is actually very, very cool.
If verified, this is an underground lake of salt, liquid water where life could really have a chance of existing. It is great!!
— Miriam Kramer (@mirikramer) July 25, 2018
The actual liquid water necessary for life on #Mars. Time to launch the first shipment of styrofoam and plastic soda can rings, and the smog generator. https://t.co/aH68NUC5ex
— Mayer Fertig (@MayerFertig) July 25, 2018
What does this mean for you?
The presence of liquid water at the bottom of the Mars polar ice caps was for the first time, a theory more than 30 years ago, the researchers said, but it was “without result discussed since then.” With the beautiful findings, which discussion is likely to be put to bed.
The water is probably below the freezing point of water (32°F, 0°C), having regard to the location, under the ice cap, but the presence of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and sodium perchlorate in the soil of the northern plains of Mars, “in support of the presence of liquid water at the bottom of the polar deposits.”
The presence of these minerals can help form a brine with the water, causing it to remain liquid, a reaction that already exists on Earth in areas such as Antarctica.
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Despite the obvious excitement around the findings, the Mars surface is “inhospitable to life”, says the Open University Dr. Manish Patel, and researchers are no closer to finding life than they were before the announcement.
“This is only a small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered,” Orosei said in a statement on the European Space Agency’s website.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s announcement is garnering attention, something Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist, called a “long-awaited result.”
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“This exciting discovery is a highlight for the planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and the habitability,” Titov said.
Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia