Liquid water 'lake' is discovered on Mars

26 July, 2018, 03:10 | Author: Dwayne Harmon
  • An artist’s impression of what NASA’s 2020 Mars rover will look like

The hunt for evidence of past or present life on Mars has gotten a number of boosts in recent decades, including the discovery of what might be organic molecules in rock samples, but the biggest question on the minds of those who imagine the planet might have supported life is that of water.

Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars.

Experts suspect there has been water on Mars for around 4bn years - and it might contain hints of life from that time.

Scientists have long said Mars could potentially host life, and finding liquid water on the Red Planet is seen as one of the most important aspects of that search for extraterrestrial life.

However, while the find is tantalizing for astrobiologists eager to find alien life, it's also a bit of a tease.

The body of water is roughly 12 miles across and buried a mile below the ice, the scientists reported in the study published Wednesday in the journal Science.

"Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form", Orosei said.

MARSIS is a low-frequency radar and altimeter that features operation altitudes up to 800 km above the Martian surface for subsurface sounding and up to 1200 km for ionospheric sounding. While the temperature is expected to be well below freezing point, only pure water freezes at 0 degrees, notes the release.

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This is the south polar cap of Mars as it appeared to the Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor on April 17, 2000.

Satellites and telescopes have shown us ice deposits at the planet's polar regions.

Thr team obtained 29 sets of radar samplings, mapping out an area exhibiting a very sharp change in its associated radar signal, about 1.5 km below the surface of the ice and extending sideways about 20 km.

The radar brightness alone isn't enough to prove that liquid water is responsible.

"This is a discovery of extraordinary significance, and is bound to heighten speculation about the presence of living organisms on the Red Planet", said Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory. Such migrations raise the possibility of the same thing happening on Mars - as the water retreated, life moved deeper underground. The discovery, which was made possible by a ground-penetrating radar on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, is "thrilling and exciting", he said.

The tool is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS), and was created to find subsurface water by sending radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps. MARSIS beams down pulses of radio waves and listens for reflections. And finding liquid water beneath the surface of Mars, specifically under ice sheets, is exactly what scientists and engineers had hoped MARSIS would do.

"I really have no other explanation", said astrophysicist Roberto Orosei of Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna and lead author of the study.

The lake resembles one of the interconnected pools that sit under several kilometers of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, says Martin Siegert, a geophysicist at Imperial College London, who heads a consortium trying to drill into Lake Ellsworth under West Antarctica.

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