Huge Deposits of Ice Found Just Beneath Mars' Surface

13 January, 2018, 01:01 | Author: Edward Fernandez
  • By the 2030s NASA hopes to send human explorers to Mars the surface of which is seen in a May 2017 handout

However, once the buried ice becomes exposed to Mars" atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it "retreats, ' due to sublimation of the ice directly from solid form into water vapor. Then, the NASA Phoenix mission in 2008 was able to dig up water ice at its landing site near Mars' north pole.

Examination of some of the scarps with MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) confirmed that the bright material is frozen water.

"There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars", Dundas said. Some of them begin just one to two meters below the Martian surface of the rocks and dust and reach a depth of at least 100 meters.

If the ice deposits are capable of supporting human life, there is a good chance it could indicate whether alien life might exist below the surface of Mars as well. But details about the thickness of the ice, its composition and its layering have been hard to gauge-until now.

Researchers believe the ice formed relatively recently, because the sites appear smooth on the surface, unpocked by craters that would be formed by celestial debris smashing into the planet over time.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. Instead, each cliff looks to be the naked face of a glacier, most of which is just barely concealed by a thin layer of soil and rock on the surface. That suggests the bands were deposited over time and trap different periods in Mars' history.

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According to the research paper, "The ice exposed by the scarps likely originated as snow that transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 [meters] of dry and ice-cemented dust or regolith near ±55° latitude".

Such structures promise to yield a layered record of past martian climates, similarly to how polar ice caps do on Earth.

While the existence of water ice underneath the surface of Mars increases the possibility of colonizing the planet someday, it still doesn't guarantee anything. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips. And because they've already been excavated by erosion, they're much easier to access.

'You don't see a high-tech solution, ' Byrne added.

The scientists already knew that Mars had underground ice water, nearly completely clean. Researchers explain that regions like this may mean frozen water will be more easily accessible to humans and robots than previously anticipated. Although previous studies made scientists ware of the ice deposits on the ice, the latest study can provide vital information about the thickness, layering, and purity of ice on the red planet.

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