Vast Lake Of Liquid Water Discovered On Mars

Pablo Tucker
July 26, 2018

That data revealed what appears to be evidence of liquid water sitting trapped beneath the ice on the planet's pole.

What they believe to be a lake sits under the planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across. "And so as we go outward from the Earth, looking for evidence of life beyond Earth, we're always looking for liquid water". Planetary scientists have been embarked on a quest to find liquid water on the red planet, because life as we know it can not survive without water to act as a solvent in its biochemistry. InSight is also the first mission dedicated exclusively to learning more about the planet's interior in an attempt to glean clues about how rocky terrestrial planets like Earth formed during the birth of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

Between 2012 and 2015, the team obtained 29 radar samples and used them to map the subsurface almost one mile deep in the area and about a dozen miles wide.

Based on new research, published in the journal Science on Wednesday, there really is liquid water on Mars - a 20-kilometre-wide lake of it, at least a metre deep, buried under a kilometre-and-a-half of south polar ice!

"We are not closer to actually detecting life, but what this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars". Mars is famously rich in magnesium, calcium, and sodium which could have all dissolved into the water, forming a brine and dropping the freezing point of water much lower.

But it is quite likely that this body of water isn't a big lake. This drastic change, as mentioned above, is similar to radar signal profiles acquired from glacial regions on Earth where liquid water is known to exist beneath the ice. That doesn't mean there aren't interesting things on the planet and even the potential for life. On Earth, microbial life persists down in the dark, frigid waters of one such lake. For those sadly and annoyingly not up on Mars-related happenings, this is notable in that it potentially marks the first time such a body of liquid water has been seen.

While its existence provides a tantalising prospect for those interested in the possibility of past or present life on Mars, the lake's characteristics must first be verified by further research.

The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft that transmits radar pulses, which penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps.

The region corresponded to a basin, adding to speculation that liquid water had flowed into this spot.

Those pulses reflected 29 sets of radar samples that created a map of drastic change in signal nearly a mile below the surface. Conveniently, there's another radar instrument called SHARAD orbiting the Red Planet on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. On Earth those lakes are often connected by channels, forming branching riverlike networks of water that extend across vast spaces beneath the ice.

Determining whether life has ever existed on Mars remains an open question and is one that consumes many astronomers.

In May, NASA launched another spacecraft, the InSight Mars lander, that will dig under the surface after it reaches a flat plain just north of the Martian equator in November. The south polar layered deposits - layers of ice and dust - are seen to a depth of about 1.5 km.

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