Astronomers Find Massive Underground Reservoir of Liquid Water on Mars

Astronomers Find Massive Underground Reservoir of Liquid Water on Mars

Almost every craft that has visited the planet has hunted for liquid water; the Mars Express craft that detected water itself had been looking for over 12 years.

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

"Caution needs to be exercised, however, as the concentration of salts needed to keep the water liquid could be fatal for any microbial life similar to Earth's", added Watson, who was not involved in the research. Still, water is water-and it could be a sign of potential life on the Red Planet, or at least a sign of potential support for a colony.

But the climate has changed significantly over the course of the planet's 4.6 billion year history and liquid water can not exist on the surface today, so scientists are looking underground.

Between May 2012 and December 2015, Roberto Orosei with International Astronomical Union and his Italian colleagues used MARSIS to survey a region called Planum Australe, located in the southern ice cap of Mars.

But on Mars, things like water and glacial activity are at a minimum, and other phenomena that could separate particles of rock - such as meteorite impacts - would create coarser fragments, not the fine powder that's choking Opportunity as we speak. But salts like magnesium, calcium and sodium already found on Mars could help the water to form a brine, which would lower the melting point to allow the lake to remain liquid. Life has been found in the poisonous, arsenic-rich waters of Lake Mono, California.

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Several researchers said it would be crucial to figure out whether this body of water is the only one, or part of an interconnecting body of underground aquifers - in part because a network increases the possibility it could have harboured life. A NASA spacecraft with the same mission and similar technology hasn't detected the body of water, suggesting that it may be transient and not the permanent source that life would need to survive. "And when they modelled the electrical properties of this region, using what we know about radar reflections and different Martian materials, they found a result that is consistent with the presence of liquid water".

Scientists could not measure the thickness of the lake, but said that it had to be around a metre or so thick for the radar pulses to bounce back. There are microorganisms on Earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.

Evidence of a large body of liquid water underneath its polar icecaps was observed by a low-frequency radar instrument on the Mars Express spacecraft.

The finding is somewhat reminiscent of Lake Vostok, discovered some 4 km below the ice in Antarctica on Earth.

It has always been suspected that the Red Planet is not as dry and arid as it looks.

For example, they considered that there could be a carbon dioxide or water ice layer within the zone that could affect the reflections, but this was rejected "because of the very specific and unlikely physical conditions required, or because they do not cause sufficiently strong basal reflections", the researchers wrote Science paper stated. "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". The radar reflected the feature's brightness, signaling that it's water.

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