Scientist find first lake of liquid water on Mars

Katie Ramirez
July 26, 2018

But it is hardly a surprise. 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.

"I think this is extremely strong evidence that there is liquid water beneath the poles in this south polar layered terrain on Mars, which is extremely exciting", says Ellen Stofan, the John and Adrienne Mars Director at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Liquid water has been found about a mile beneath Mars south polar ice cap.

To be clear, there's no sign of any actual Martian microbes swimming around, and the environment is not obviously hospitable - the water at the base of the polar cap is estimated to be minus-90 degrees F, far below the typical freezing point of water.

The newfound lake stretches some 12 miles from end-to-end, and was discovered using a radar instrument called MARSIS on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, which first reached Mars almost 15 years ago. Previous claims of evidence for liquid water, in the form of changes in gullies and dark streaks called recurring slope lineae attributed to flows of briny water, had turned out to be caused by dry avalanches.

The study, published overnight in the journal Science, does not determine how deep the reservoir actually is.

After further analysis, the Italian researchers determined the radar profiles indicate "a stable body of liquid water on Mars".

However, MARSIS had a bit of a problem: the dimensions of the objects that it measured were tough to calculate because the instrument was not calibrated.

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It's been tricky arriving at this conclusion. "If that were to be liquid water, it would be only feasible if there will be large concentrations of salts within it". There had been some signs of liquid water now on Mars, including disputed evidence of water activity on Martian slopes, but not stable bodies of water.

But considering Mars is so much colder than Earth, the only way for water to remain liquid is if it was filled with salt.

"The underground water might exist as a lake trapped beneath rock layers or mixed in with Martian soil to create a salty sludge, but either way, at 20km across, there is a lot of it".

But it is quite likely that this body of water isn't a big lake. Then again, not everyone even agrees that the body of water exists.

He noted that a higher-frequency radar instrument made by the Italian space agency, SHARAD, on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005, has been unable to detect subsurface water.

Michael Meyer believes the more we study Mars, the more we will learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future. But water on Mars is water on Mars-pretty darn cool.

The question would be, Orosei added, whether any life forms that could have evolved long ago on Mars have found a way to survive until now. MARSIS sends electromagnetic pulses down to the planet and measures how they echo back - and Orosei and colleagues discovered especially bright reflections from a broad region spanning about 12 miles, about a mile below the ice. However, as of today, we're limited by a very important law of planetary protection. "Europa and Enceladus are cold, but they're potentially good habitats; this makes Mars sound like an even better habitat".

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