Scientists identify lake of liquid water under surface of Mars
Jul 26, 2018, 10:57
The temperature of the water in the 12-mile-wide lake is believed to be minus-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scientists have discovered a body of liquid water on Mars for the first time, raising the possibility that the planet could sustain life.
Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSISexperiment and lead author of the paper said, "This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", in an ESA statement. The ice caps above the lake likewise increase pressure, impacting the melt point and potentially helping pave the way for a subglacial liquid water lake.
Mars is now cold and dry, but 3.6 billion years ago was home to plenty of liquid water. However, stable bodies of water have been elusive, and this may be the first concrete data that shows a body of water that remains in place for the entire Martian year.
Radar instruments like Marsis examine the surface and immediate subsurface of the planet by sending out a signal and examining what is bounced back.
"Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form", Orosei said. But the radar reflections could be produced by a layer of water less than a meter thick, so it could be just a thin layer of liquid lining the base of the ice sheet.
"Caution needs to be exercised, however, as the concentration of salts needed to keep the water liquid could be fatal for any microbial life similar to Earth's", added Watson, who was not involved in the research.
The result is exciting because scientists have long searched for signs of present-day liquid water on Mars, but these have come up empty or yielded ambiguous findings.
Although the temperature is expected to be below the freezing point of pure water, they suggested 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.
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. Where this water went and how, taking most of Mars' atmosphere with it, is one of the great and ominous environmental mysteries of our time.
"But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments".
The discovery was made using a radar instrument on board the Mars Express orbiter, which works by bouncing low-frequency electromagnetic waves off the surface of the planet then analysing the data that returns.
Green said that a lander mission called InSight that's already on its way to Mars might be able to help provide corroborating evidence. The grayscale background image is a Thermal Emission Imaging System image from NASA's Mars Odyssey, and highlights the underlying topography: a mostly featureless plain with icy scarps in the lower right (south is up). SHARAD operates at different frequencies than MARSIS does, but it's also created to pick up subsurface features.
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