Nov 24, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Massive Frozen Lake Discovered Under Martian Surface

Scientists just really, really want there to be water on Mars. 2016 has seen many big developments in the search for H20 on the red planet, with astronomers detecting geological evidence of once-flowing water and finding several strange craters which hint at the presence of water, but so far actual liquid water on Mars remains elusive. In fact, according to current estimates, the Martian surface has been dry for millions of years. However, new data published in Geophysical Research Letters has shown that there could possibly be a massive frozen lake just under the Martian surface, giving renewed hope to the search for both Martian water and Martian life.

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The data was collected by the SHARAD (shallow radar) instrument aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

According to the data, shallow radar surveys of the Utopia Planitia region of Mars are consistent with similar reflective regions on Earth where ice can be found just beneath the surface. In a NASA JPL press release, scientists claim the region is massive and composed mostly of ice:

Analyses of data from more than 600 overhead passes with the onboard radar instrument reveal a deposit more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico. The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet (80 meters) to about 560 feet (170 meters), with a composition that's 50 to 85 percent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles.

The ice is covered by a layer of Martian soil ranging in thickness from roughly 3 to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters), making it potentially accessible by unmanned rovers or future Mars colonists.

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Arrows show where the orbiting, ground-penetrating radar detected subsurface deposits rich in water ice.

University of Texas astronomer Joe Levy, co-author of this new study, claims the discovery gives scientists hope that future Mars colonists might be able to one day harvest the ice, which is far more accessible than ice found in Mars’ polar regions:

The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren't just an exploration resource, they're also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars. [...] Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.

Given that Elon Musk and SpaceX plan to put a million colonists on Mars within the next fifty years, this new discovery might be just the boon that planned Mars colonies need.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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