Huge 'lake' discovered under surface of Mars

Terry Joseph
July 26, 2018

Scanning Mars with radar from a space probe, researchers have detected a lake of liquid water under the ice that stretches more than 12 miles across, according to a new study published Wednesday.

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

A team of researchers led by Roberto Orosei of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Bologna, Italy, surveyed a region called Planum Australe, located in the southern ice cap of Mars, from May 2012 until December 2015.

It is the largest body of liquid water ever found on the Red Planet.

Since everything is a competition, perhaps this exciting discovery will inspire Donald Trump to improve NASA's budget to make sure the United States wins the race to Mars. 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.

The presence of liquid water on Mars has always been suspected but thus far evidence from MARSIS remained inconclusive.

A dose of realism: Liquid water in large quantities could be a real boon to any future Martian colonists.

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Liquid water hanging out beneath the planet's surface, which is too hot for it to survive, has been a suspected reality for years. Data from NASA's Cassini orbiter, even though the mission ended in 2017, continues to provide researchers with evidence of organics under the ice of Saturn's moon Enceladus, although they can't yet tell if geology or biology produced those organics (Cassini simply wasn't equipped to tell the difference).

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. They can not see the bottom with existing equipment, but they estimate it is at least three feet deep, otherwise they would not have detected it at all.

"It's plausible that the water may be an extremely cold, concentrated brine, which would be pretty challenging for life", Claire Cousins, an astrobiologist from the University of St Andrews, said.

Those pulses reflected 29 sets of radar samples that created a map of drastic change in signal nearly a mile below the surface. But some experts are cautioning that this discovery alone does not ensure the eventual discovery of life on Mars. Water is considered a fundamental ingredient for life.

"This condition on Earth happens only when you observe subglacial water like in Antarctica over places like Lake Vostok, " he added.

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 harbored life.

"We don't see the same reflector with SHARAD, not even when we recently summed together [thousands] of observations to create CATSCAN-like 3-D views of both polar caps", Nathaniel Putzig, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter SHARAD deputy team leader and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said in an email.

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