Large Amounts of Water Ice Found Beneath Mars' Surface
Large Amounts of Water Ice Found Beneath Mars' Surface
Mars captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Space Telescope Science Institute
12 January, 2018, 06:09
Just below the surface, Mars is full of ice. NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have used instruments onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to analyze the vertical structure and thickness of buried ice sheets, which preserve a detailed record of the Red Planet's past and could provide future human explorers with an easily-accessible water supply. "It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground".
As a 2016 NASA study makes clear, ice may yield more water per scoop than minerals, but if accessing this ice requires digging through 9 metres of rock, then ice mining ends up being too inefficient.
Researchers already knew that Mars harbors subsurface water ice, and lots of it. These locations were not found on Mars' polar ice caps, where "hostile conditions" would prevent astronauts from scavenging the Martian ice, but in more friendly areas, NASA said.
In 2011, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent back images of unusual dark streaks on some slopes of Mars, news that reverberated throughout the scientific community, many members of which postulated that the geological feature could be a sign of flowing water.
"Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need", says Byrne. Fours years later, scientists presented evidence that the streaks were caused by hydrated minerals that flowed down the slopes in the Martian warm seasons. The tilt of Mars' axis of rotation varies much more than Earth's, over rhythms of millions of years.
Mars clearly had a watery past, and it's expected that much of the water is still on the planet.
The ice contains bands and color variations that suggest it was formed layer by layer, perhaps as snow accumulated over time, leading to ice sheets.
"It's part of the whole story of what happens to water on Mars over time: Where does it go?" This revealed cliffs composed mostly of water ice, which is slowly sublimating as it is exposed to the atmosphere. They identified eight locations where erosion had exposed apparent glaciers, some of which extend 330 feet (100 meters) or more into the Red Planet's subsurface.
"There's unquestionably some measure of tidy and flotsam and jetsam in it, and there can be little measures of salts or different things too, yet what we're seeing at the scarps are predominately ice", he includes. The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars' high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice.
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