"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", said Duffy. Thanks to new data from Mars Express, a 15-year-old satellite, researchers have announced that there is a 12-mile wide lake of liquid - yes, seriously - water below the Mars' South Pole.
Scientists are eager to find current water signs because such discoveries are key to uncovering the mystery of whether life existed on Mars in its ancient past or whether it could persist today. With such encouraging results now published, those involved with the hunt are sure to be emboldened. Then, concerned that their hope the bright spots might be water could blind them to other explanations, Orosei and colleagues spent nearly as long trying to demolish their own data.
But maybe, just maybe, that life would have been able to follow the water - to move underground, where it might have found a niche, in a dark salty lake, buried beneath the ice of Mars's southern polar cap.
Some experts are sceptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, and mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals. Although they pass relatively unscathed through most substances, these pulses reflect back up to the spacecraft each time they encounter boundaries between different materials, such as the interface of ice and bedrock. Subsurface echo power is color coded and deep blue corresponds to the strongest reflections, which are interpreted as being caused by the presence of water.
In the new discovery, between May 2012 and December 2015, Orosei and colleagues used MARSIS to survey a region called Planum Australe, located in the southern ice cap of Mars.
A 12-Mile-Wide Body Of Water Lies Beneath A Mars Ice Cap
What they believe to be a lake sits under the planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across.
"They haven't seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years", he said. Life, many astrobiologists speculate, may have had no difficulty getting started there. It's terribly cold on Mars, particularly at the poles, but the ice creates an insulating layer so that temperatures further down can actually be warmer. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL. "This condition on Earth happens only when you observe subglacial water, like in Antarctica, over places like Lake Vostok".
If it were possible to drill a mile into Mars into the newly discovered lake, he said he would bet there was life there too."I've been studying life in ice for 35 years", he said. As such, researchers have long hunted for signs of water on Mars to see if the Red Planet might once have been a home to life-and might host it still.
If it is liquid water, the intense saltiness would make it hard for life, at least life as known on Earth, to survive in the lake, Lunine said. Liquid water is a prime factor that indicates habitability and potential microbial presence. "With the equipment we have, we have no way to say if it is a lake or not a lake", Pettinelli says. This kind of lake stays liquid because the water mixes with salts like magnesium, calcium, and sodium to form a brine which lowers the water's freezing point. MARSIS's wavelength is over 300 feet and can penetrate deeper, whereas SHARAD's is 50 feet and scours closer to the surface. But Clifford holds out hope subsurface geothermal hotspots like those that power volcanoes and hot springs on Earth could sufficiently heat portions of the Martian underworld to allow liquid reservoirs to exist there without the need for life-sabotaging salt levels.
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