For decades we have searched for water on Mars, and we’ve found very little, either in the form of trickles on the surface or frozen as ice. But an incredible new discovery may change everything.
Reported in the journal Science, researchers led by Dr Roberto Orosei from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Rome say they have found a vast reservoir of water beneath the south pole of Mars. So vast, in fact, that it looks similar to a subglacial lake on Earth – one where life could arise.
“This is potentially the first habitat we know of on Mars,” Dr Orosei told IFLScience. “It’s the first place where microorganisms like those that exist today on Earth could survive.”
The large reservoir of water was found by a radar instrument, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument, on board ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft. The team used data collected by the spacecraft from May 2012 to December 2015.
The data showed that 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) below the surface, in a region called Planum Australe, there was a source of liquid water spanning about 20 kilometers (12 miles) across. The team do not know how deep this reservoir of water is, but note it is at least deeper than a few tens of centimeters, and possibly more.
It was detected by sending 29 sets of radar pulses under the surface, with reflections showing a radar signal almost identical to that from lakes of liquid water found beneath the ice of Antarctica and Greenland on Earth, heavily suggesting it is liquid water. However, the exact nature of the water at the moment is unclear.
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