Jul 26, 2018 I Brett Tingley

Liquid Water Confirmed on Mars and Alien Life Could Be Next

Oh man, look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show

We've come a long way since one of our ape-like ancestors first threw a bone into the sky and apparently got the idea to someday build a space station. One of our Solar System’s most enduring mysteries might have just been solved - or at least gotten a lot closer to being solved. According to a new study published in Science, Mars might indeed be home to a massive body of liquid water under its southern ice cap. If confirmed, this would mark the discovery of the largest known body of liquid water on Mars. Even better, the discovery has given the astronomical community a huge boost in our search for life on Mars. 

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Mars' south polar ice cap

This groundbreaking discovery is based on a new analysis of radar data gathered by the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) instrument, a low-frequency radar sensor aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. The Mars Express has been in orbit around the Red Planet since December 2003, and spent 2012 to 2015 investigating the Planum Australe region of Mars’ southern ice cap.

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The awesomely-named Mars Express

The radar profiles collected from that region indicate the presence of a lake of liquid water stretching 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide and over 1 meter in depth. Roberto Orosei, a scientist at Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics who led the research, says these radar profiles are similar to those collected in studies of bodies of water hiding under ice caps here on Earth:

The reflections from the bottom are stronger than surface reflection. This is something that to us is the tell-tale sign of the presence of water. This condition on Earth happens only when you observe subglacial water, like in Antarctica. The radar data tell us that this water must contain a large amount of salts. This is because the ice above it is very transparent, and this would not be possible if the ice was too warm, too close to the melting point.

Scientists here on Earth have discovered evidence that there might be entirely undiscovered ecosystems in waters under the Antarctic ice sheet brimming with unknown forms of life. Could microbial Martians be hiding under Mars’ southern ice cap? Let’s just hope that water isn’t too salty to sustain life, which is of course a distinct possibility. As usual, this research is just the tip of the iceberg (or is it ice cap?) and much more data is needed to confirm the presence of this body of Martian water. If these findings are confirmed, though, it would greatly increase our chances of finally answering one of David Bowie’s lingering questions.

Brett Tingley

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

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