"Our interpretation is that this is consolidated snow deposited in geologically recent times", Dundas said.
The discovery was made using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and involves "eight sites where thick deposits of ice beneath Mars' surface are exposed in faces of eroding slopes", according to a NASA news release. The erosion has created huge cliffs of ice, up to 300 feet tall in some cases. But the new research describes something entirely new: thick underground sheets that are exposed along large slopes that rise as much as 100 yards up from the planet. The ice cliffs provide a cross-section of the climate over the ages, much like the rings in a tree.
"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", The Washington Post reported quoting Colin Dundas, a member of the US Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona and an author of a report published Thursday in the journal Science. "Something caused [the ice] to be deposited and then deposited again", and that thing is most likely to be snowfall.
Image shows modern Mars (left) dry and barren, compared with the same scene over 3.5 billion years ago covered in water (right).
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However, some of it stayed behind, transforming into ice that settled under the rocky surface. (We've previously known about shallow subsurface ice from multiple lines of evidence).
Not really, of course, but the discovery does suggest that future missions to the Red Planet would be able to attain drinking water and make rocket fuel, both of which would be crucial to their success.
"Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface".
The ice sheets deposits were found at the geological formations with latitudes of around 55 degrees to 58 degrees located in the southern and northern hemisphere. "Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need", said Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, the report's co-author. "It's also much closer to places humans would probably land as opposed to the polar caps, which are very inhospitable".