Guys, They've Actually Found Real Water On Mars

A 12-Mile-Wide Body Of Water Lies Beneath A Mars Ice Cap

The radar profile of this sub-surface Martian lake is similar to lakes found under the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets here on Earth, this suggests that there is indeed a subglacial lake on Mars.

To see if liquid water might hide under the Martian surface, scientists analyzed data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft now orbiting the Red Planet.

The reservoir they detected - roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface - represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars. The results appear today in the journal Science. When he and his team drilled into a subsurface lake there a few years ago, they found microbes.

Carbon compounds and minerals have already been found on the Martian surface.

The scientists who analyzed these radar echoes were careful to consider all the things that could have made the echoes they measured, including explanations that don't involve liquid water, and they were able to rule out most of those explanations. The probe, built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), will provide crucial data on how much heat escapes the planet and where liquid water could exist near its surface. For around three years, according to EurekAlert, researchers used the MARIS tool to study the Planum Australe, Mars' southern ice cap.

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"They haven't seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years", he said. Life, many astrobiologists speculate, may have had no difficulty getting started there.

MARSIS uses radar pulses that go deep into the surface of Mars. In 1987, the astronomer Stephen M. Clifford theorized that liquid water might be hiding, deep below the planet's polar ice caps. "A lake, not some kind of meltwater filling some space between rock and ice, as happens in certain glaciers on Earth", Prof Orosei added.

What they believe to be a lake sits beneath the Red Planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across.

"We don't see the same reflector with SHARAD, not even when we recently summed together [thousands] of observations to create CATSCAN-like 3-D views of both polar caps", Nathaniel Putzig, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter SHARAD deputy team leader and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said in an email.

The long-sought discovery, the largest detection of liquid water on the Red Planet yet, raises the tantalizing possibility of a very cold, very salty niche where life might have once existed - or even persisted. It's the same as when you put salt on a road, said Kirsten Siebach, a planetary geologist at Rice University who wasn't part of the study.

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A dose of realism: Liquid water in large quantities could be a real boon to any future Martian colonists.

Such radars are useful when searching for liquid water, "because water is a very strong radar reflector", he says.

"Mars wouldn't be almost this dusty if it wasn't for this one enormous deposit that is gradually eroding over time and polluting the planet", says one of the team, planetary geophysicist Kevin Lewis.

Although the temperature is expected to be below the freezing point of pure water, Orosei noted that dissolved salts of magnesium, calcium, and sodium - known to be present in Martian rocks - could be dissolved in the water to form a brine.

There is another satellite orbiting Mars right now, but it hasn't detected what MARSIS did.

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But that, and the cold, and the pressure, needn't stop it from containing life. Such a hot spot could, in fact, be responsible for the MARSIS team's newfound lake.

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