Based on new analysis of data collected by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (or MARSIS), Mars may have dozens of lakes hidden underneath the planet’s south pole.
We already know that Mars has water as data collected by Europe's Mars Express spacecraft revealed evidence of a large subsurface lake around the south pole area back in 2018. It is located approximately a mile (1.6 kilometers) underneath the surface of the planet and measures about 12 miles in width (19.3 kilometers). The MARSIS instrument then detected three more underground lakes – all measuring around 6 miles in width (9.7 kilometers).
And now, new research has suggested that there may be much more water under the Red Planet’s south pole that experts previously didn’t know about. Aditya Khuller, who is an Arizona State University doctoral student, as well as Jeffrey Plaut from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California and MARSIS co-principal investigator, studied 44,000 observations of the planet’s south pole area that were collected by MARSIS over a time frame of 15 years.
They discovered dozens of radar reflections that looked like the previous four lakes found in the region. What’s even more incredible was that these signals were detected pretty close to the surface of the planet where the cold temperatures would make it impossible to have liquid water – at least that’s what was previously believed.
In a statement, Plaut described their findings, “We’re not certain whether these signals are liquid water or not, but they appear to be much more widespread than what the original paper found,” adding, “Either liquid water is common beneath Mars’ south pole, or these signals are indicative of something else.”
If these signals actually are liquid water, how is it possible that it hasn’t frozen over with the extremely cold temperatures? Mars has an average surface temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62 degrees Celsius) which would certainly freeze water. One possibility (but highly unlikely) is volcanism as Khuller addressed in the same statement, “...we haven’t really seen any strong evidence for recent volcanism at the south pole, so it seems unlikely that volcanic activity would allow subsurface liquid water to be present throughout this region.”
While experts still aren’t exactly sure as to what the radar reflections were picking up, if it is liquid water located relatively close to the surface, this would be incredible news regarding how much water is on the Red Planet and if there could be any potential life. Their study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters where it can be read in full.
Pictures taken of Mars’ south pole can be seen here.