Giant Liquid Water 'Lake' Discovered On Mars

26 July, 2018, 16:08 | Author: Harriet Bell
  • Scientists Detect Liquid Lake on Mars

A tool onboard the spacecraft sends radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps of the planet and reflections off subsurface features provide scientists with information about what lies below.

The team, using radar instruments (MARSIS) aboard a European Space Agency orbiter, say they found a lake under the polar cap that stretches about 20km across and 1.5km deep.

Finding more liquid water on Mars may mean moving beyond radar technology, which is limited to detecting large quantities of water close to the surface.

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

The body of water is about 12.5 miles across and sequestered beneath almost a mile of ice at the south pole. Mars, like many frontier areas of science, has a history of exciting findings - such as the discovery of flowing water on the surface in 2015 - that turn out to be explained mostly by something far more mundane, flowing dust. But water on Mars is water on Mars-pretty darn cool. This would lower the water's freezing temperature, and combined with the pressures exerted by the 1.5 kilometres of ice above it, it would be prevented from freezing solid.

The principle is the same above Mars.

The data comes from the ESA's Mars Express orbiter, which carries a ground-penetrating radar instrument called MARSIS. When the researchers looked more closely at the pattern of the echo, they realized that the shape of the newly discovered material had a rough bottom and a smooth top.

The search for water on Mars goes back to an 1877 observation by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, in which he noted a series of canali on Mars. "We can show that there's enough energy to drive chemotrophic life-life that doesn't need sun, but lives on chemistry", he said.

He said a back-of-the-envelope calculation indicated several hundred million cubic meters of water. In comparison, salty ocean water freezes at 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That suggests that the water is brim full of salts, allowing it to melt. They've turned to the icy regions, which contain ice caps of water and Carbon dioxide that may hide liquid water beneath. "Europa and Enceladus are cold, but they're potentially good habitats; this makes Mars sound like an even better habitat".

But considering Mars is so much colder than Earth, the only way for water to remain liquid is if it was filled with salt. If life did arise from those early, cosy conditions, it could have moved underground as the surface cooled and dried.

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The data collected on the anomalous area is similar to readings taken on Earth, showing large bodies of water beneath polar deposits in Antarctica.

Scientists have discovered a body of liquid water on Mars for the first time, raising the possibility that the planet could sustain life. On Earth those lakes are often connected by channels, forming branching riverlike networks of water that extend across vast spaces beneath the ice.

This particular lake, however, would be neither swimmable nor drinkable.

Still, he said, "Having a stable body of liquid water today is very intriguing and worthy of study".

"What we tend to think here on Earth is that if there is liquid water, there is a good chance for life".

"But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments". They found bacteria still living there in complete isolation.

"They haven't seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years", he said.

The discovery was made by Italian scientists who were analysing images from the the Mars Express spacecraft - a European satellite.

"All the technology to drill through this ice to the lake doesn't exist yet so it will probably take at least another 25 years before we will be examining this".



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