Mars has ‘multiple bodies’ of liquid water, new study concludes

Katie Ramirez
September 30, 2020

And Mars, as we know from surface studies, is rich in calcium and magnesium salts, as well as sodium. There are abundant signs that water flowed across its surface in the distant past, but today you'd struggle to find even any crevices that you could call moist.

The team also looked at whether recent magmatic activity could be responsible for keeping the ponds liquid, but ruled this out in favour of the salt water theory, as a geothermal explanation did not fit with other key evidence obtained from planetary observations so far.

Because of this, brines have been proposed as the most plausible form of liquid water on Mars, which has an average global temperature of around -108°F (-60°C).

'Therefore we think that any process of formation and persistence of sub-ice water beneath the ice polar caps requires the liquid to have high salinity'. On Earth, such lakes began to be discovered in Antarctica in the 1970s, where almost 400 are now known.

The way the signal is reflected indicates the kind of material present at a particular location - rock, ice, or water. Antarctica's largest subglacial lake is Lake Vostok - which is 240km long, 50km wide and hundreds of metres deep - located 4km below the surface.

The lakes seem to lurk beneath a huge layer of ice. The area shown is about 300km across. The system sends radar pulses that are able to penetrate the surface of Mars.

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In July 2018, its Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARIS) instrument helped scientists reinvigorate the debate about just how wet Mars might have been in its early history and how wet it might be now, when radar signals bouncing through underground layers of ice detected a particularly bright radar reflection 1.5 kilometres down that stretched for about 20 kilometres. There is a mile (1.5 km) of ice along the way.

Mars' thin atmosphere means that the presence of liquid water on the surface is a near-impossibility. The authors suggest that the liquid bodies consist of hypersaline solutions, in which high concentrations of salts are dissolved in water.

'The main lake is surrounded by smaller bodies of liquid water, but because of the technical characteristics of the radar, and of its distance from the Martian surface, we can not conclusively determine whether they are interconnected'. The weight of the overlying ice would supply the pressure necessary to keep the water in liquid state rather than turning to vapour.

Three underground lakes have been detected near the south pole of Mars.

The announcement was followed by efforts to confirm the initial finding and to further understand the conditions that would allow liquid water to persist under the Martian south polar ice cap. "They're just pickled. And that might be the case [on Mars]", Priscu said, as quoted by Nature.

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