Scientists identify lake of liquid water under surface of Mars

Terry Joseph
July 29, 2018

Scientists have uncovered a "a stable body of liquid water" on Mars, in what some are calling a "game changer" in the search for alien life.

It would be at least 20 kilometers wide and would have to be "several tens of centimeters thick" - otherwise the radar could not have detected it. The body of water was found under ice near the South Pole on the Red Planet.

The data comes from the ESA's Mars Express orbiter, which carries a ground-penetrating radar instrument called MARSIS.

Mars is now cold, barren, and dry but used to be warm and wet.

A few years ago, biologists found more than 3,500 unique gene sequences in Lake Vostok which had been isolated for more than 15 million years; Lake Vostok gets no sunlight with it being 4,000 metres below the ice and has a recorded temperature of -89.2c, showing life to be hardy.

If scientists want definitive proof that this sort of microbial life exists, it is likely that they'll need to drill deep beneath the ice in order to collect samples of the liquid water.

What they believe to be a lake sits beneath the Red Planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across.

However, the planet's climate has since cooled due to its thin atmosphere, leaving most of its water locked up in ice. The lake is about a mile under the surface and stretches 12 miles across.

This, however, is the best evidence to date of an environment on Mars that could be friendly to known forms of life - these "extremophile" bacteria - right now.

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Some experts are sceptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals. If the lake also contains salt deposits, the melting point is reduced even more and keeps the water flowing even at below-freezing temperatures.

Now, new evidence from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express satellite has helped confirm it for the first time. Until now, scientists had only confirmed significant amounts of water in the form of ice, primarily located at the poles.

Radio waves beamed down to the surface by Marsis penetrated through the ice and bounced back to the spacecraft.

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

"This could be, perhaps, the first habitat we find on Mars", said Orosei, who led the study published in the journal Science, according to The Washington Post.

Mars and Earth were closer than this year in 2003, when the two planets were just 55.7 million km apart, which was the closest in almost 60,000 years and won't happen again until 2287, NASA said. The reflectance times of the radar pulses acts as a probe to see what types of materials are hidden beneath the surface and its overall topology. In comparison, salty ocean water freezes at 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Italian astrophysicist Roberto Orosei speaks during a press conference at the Italian Space Agency headquarters in Rome, Wednesday, July 25, 2018.

"It is odd that SHARAD can not confirm this discovery".

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