Martian Ice Newly Detected, Could Supply Water for Human Outposts

1_11_Mars surface

Although ice has always been known to exist on Mars, a better understanding of its depth and location could be vital to future human explorers, said the report in the USA journal Science. New data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicates there could be a lot of it in giant sheets that run for hundreds of meters hiding just below the surface.

For any future mission to Mars, finding water is critical.

Using the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the team was able to get a cross sectional look at the ice to learn more about its composition and depth.

"We've found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will be of interest to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history", Colin Dundas, a member of the US Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, said, NDTV reported. Because the ice is only visible where surface soil has been removed, Dundas et al. say it is likely that ice near the surface is even more extensive than detected in this study.

"On Mars, when you see something bright, it usually means ice", Richard Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement to Wired.

Similar to ice cores recovered from the Earth's surface, these ice sheets may preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate on Mars. Those cliffs formed through a process called sublimation, in which exposed ice turned directly into water vapour.




Aside from the discovery of the ice deposits, the researchers were also surprised to find that they could potentially be mined.

Layer cake " This deep, thick, pure ice extends nearly all the way up to the surface" says co-author Ali Bramson.

The layers of ice discovered on Mars could serve as a life-saving source of water for human explorers of the Red Planet, NASA scientists believe.

Interestingly, scientists think that Mars' obliquity - the tilt of the planet's axis relative to the plane of its orbit - has shifted a fair bit over the past few million years, varying between about 15 and 35 degrees, Dundas said. Both NASA and the European Space Agency are due to send rovers to Mars in 2020, which are equipped with radar and drill technologies that can explore beneath the surface of the Red Planet. The ice sheets are found 55 to 60 degrees north or south of the equator where temperatures can drop extremely low, making it hard for future astronauts to gain access to them. Such reserves could help researchers tease out the planet's history, and dramatically improve the feasibility of any potential colonies on Mars.

The sheets' proximity to the surface makes them accessible, in theory, to robot explorers. The authors of the study theorize that the layers of ice began as snow, which compacted and hardened into ice sheets.

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