Scientists discover underground lake on Mars

Jul 27, 2018, 15:29
Scientists discover underground lake on Mars

Although the first study suggesting liquid water might be found at the base of Martian polar caps was published almost 31 years ago, the new findings mark the first tangible evidence of the presence of liquid water on the Red Planet. With a pinch of salt Previous research had discovered some tell tale signs of liquid water being present on Mars, but it was never in a continuous flow.

Before we get too excited about drilling 1.5km into the poles of Mars to look for ice, however, we'll probably want independent confirmation that this high-reflectivity region shows up consistently and behaves as if it's liquid water.

Scientists using ground-penetrating radar found a 12-mile (about 20km) wide lake about a mile beneath the southern ice cap. Such migrations raise the possibility of the same thing happening on Mars - as the water retreated, life moved deeper underground.

"It is liquid, and it's salty, and it's in contact with rocks", he added.

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

The finding is somewhat reminiscent of Lake Vostok, discovered some 4 km below the ice in Antarctica on Earth. "Those are not ideal conditions for life to form", Siebach said.

The ISA team's findings will appear in this week's issue of the journal Science, they will reignite speculation about the planet's geology and the potential for life on Mars.

"I think the more we explore Mars, the more intriguing and complex it becomes", Lunine said. The water is also chock-full of perchlorates, toxic chemicals to us that occur naturally in Martian soil. Hang on though, don't book your Mars vacation plans just yet.

Mars Express launched 2 June 2003 and celebrates 15 years in orbit on 25 December this year.

Twenty-nine observations were made between 2012 and 2015 in the Planum Australe region at the south pole using the MARSIS radar on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft. The 200 km square study area is indicated in the left-hand image and the radar footprints

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

Billions of years ago, Mars was a much more Earth-like place where water pooled in seas, carved enormous canyons and bubbled from hot springs.

The nature of the subterranean water, however, raises a quandary when it comes to its suitability for life. Villanueva noted that future mining of MARSIS data could turn up more watery pockets. "It's the first place where microorganisms like those that exist today on Earth could survive", said Dr. Roberto Orosei of the INAF to IFL Science.

The discovery was made by using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Such a hot spot could, in fact, be responsible for the MARSIS team's newfound lake. "The big, big finding would be water at depth outside the polar cap". The pressure also changes the melting point of water. "If that were to be liquid water, it would be only feasible if there will be large concentrations of salts within it".

These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface".

So instead, they tried to come up with as many other explanations for what they were seeing as possible.

For some scientists, the bright radar reflection falls a bit short of proof. "It's the kind of signal we would expect for liquid water". "It may exceed the salt content that any terrestrial organisms that we know of can survive in", he said.

Several researchers said it would be crucial to figure out whether this body of water is the only one, or part of an interconnecting body of underground aquifers - in part because a network increases the possibility it could have harboured life. "They're eating the rocks for energy". And in recent years, scientists actually drilled deep beneath the Antarctic ice into one of these, the subglacial Lake Whillans, which had been cut off from the surface for millions of years.