Published: Thu, July 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Eric Barnett

Miles of Water Found on Mars. Could It Support Life?

Miles of Water Found on Mars. Could It Support Life?

According to a new study, scientists have found indications of a lake of liquid water beneath the surface of Mars.

The discovery was made by using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

A 12-mile long lake of liquid water has been detected under the polar ice caps of Mars, raising hopes that life could exist beneath the surface. Deep beneath the surface, however, the weight of overlying soil and glaciers - as well as the potential presence of dissolved salts - could allow water to stay liquid even at what would otherwise be below-freezing temperatures.

A study published on Wednesday in the journal Science has confirmed that liquid water is present on Mars.

"I've been studying life in ice for 35 years", he said. InSight is also the first mission dedicated exclusively to learning more about the planet's interior in an attempt to glean clues about how rocky terrestrial planets like Earth formed during the birth of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. 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).

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

"There's nothing special about this location other than the MARSIS radar on the Mars Express spacecraft is most sensitive to that region meaning there are likely similar water deposits below the ground all across Mars". MARSIS then measures these reflected waves to figure out what it's looking at. So engineers sent a software update to MARSIS to better optimize it for observations of those subsurface reflections around the south pole. Part of the problem is that we do not know how cold this water discovered by MARSIS is. Further data indicated that the pocket of material is most likely a cavern, one with the right temperature and pressure to hold liquid water.

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The radar brightness alone isn't enough to prove that liquid water is responsible.

This is not the first time that scientists have discovered signs of water on Mars but this is the first time that a persistent water supply has been found, which is noteworthy. On Earth, places like these are home to bacteria adapted to the extreme conditions of sub-glacial, briny lakes. "There, water is salty and there are single-cell organisms that survive in such an environment, with a metabolism that makes use of the salts in the water", he said.

Following news of the findings, social media was understandably enthused, with some wondering what it might mean for the search for extraterrestrial life.

The scientists analyzed radar profiles, within a 200 km-wide area, collected between May 2012 and December 2015.

Robotic missions to the planet's surface still find surprising echoes of that bygone time, such as patches of water-ice frost forming on rocks as well as water droplets condensing like dew on a lander's leg.

Authors of the Science paper, "Radar Evidence of Subglacial Liquid Water on Mars", include Orosei, Flamini and Cicchetti, plus S.E. Lauro, E. Pettinelli, M. Coradini, B. Cosciotti, F. Di Paolo, E. Mattei, M. Pajola, F. Soldovieri, M. Cartacci, F. Cassenti, A. Frigeri, S. Giuppi, R. Martufi, A. Masdea, G. Mitri, C. Nenna, R. Noschese, M. Restano and R. Seu.

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