Science

Thick Sheets of Water Ice Found Buried Under Mars's Surface

Thick Sheets of Water Ice Found Buried Under Mars's Surface

Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent. If future explorers want to be able to draw down these water sources, scientists are going to have to learn much more about them.

"It's looking more encouraging that water ice could be available at depths shallow enough that could be used as resources for human missions to Mars", Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, told National Geographic.

The latitudes were the equivalent on Earth of Scotland or the tip of South America.

Scientists have long theorised that reserves of water ice are locked underground on Mars.

The scientists say that the ice contains distinct layers, which could help to understand changes in the planet's climate over time.

Those recently identified layers recommend that the ice was set down over some stretch of time, through a procedure that happened more than once.

The researchers used images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has studied the Martian atmosphere and terrain since 2006, including the history of apparent water, flows on or near the surface.

'Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you, ' said Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, a co-author on today's report.




In 2008, the Phoenix Mars lander discovered similar ice deposits along martian scarps, but they were found in regions much closer to the planet's northern pole. "You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need". I think it's sort of a game-changer.

"The scarps are sharply defined and almost straight, up to (about 3.7 miles) long, and face slightly east of poleward", the scientists wrote.

However, once the buried ice becomes exposed to Mars" atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it "retreats, ' due to sublimation of the ice directly from solid form into water vapor. The ice has a progression of layers, says Colin Dundas, a planetary geologist at the U.S. Land Survey and the paper's lead creator.

"Finding water ice like this is a very important step in opening up habitability of Mars."

Images taken over the course of three Martian years reveal massive chunks of rock that fell from the ice as erosion occurred, leading the researchers to estimate that the ice is retreating a few millimeters each summer.

This high-resolution HiRISE image shows an icy scarp on Mars in the context of a broader area.

A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground.

Aside from potentially aiding in human exploration of Mars, the newly-mapped ice sheets could also unlock secrets hidden in Mars' past. The discovery adds crucial detail to Mars's geologic history, and it may shape how future humans on Mars get their water.


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