Researchers Uncover Mars Ice Deposit With ‘As Much Water As Lake Superior’
Scientists have recently uncovered an underground ice deposit on Mars that they estimate could be bigger than the state of New Mexico, and could hold as much water as Lake Superior.
According to a new study by the research journal Geophysical Research Letters, this deposit of ice is believed to contain approximately “about as much water as Lake Superior.” As such, it is believed that the body of frozen water could ultimately represent a potential resource for future astronauts that undertake exploration of our neighboring planet.
This ice layer appears to be deposited “in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes” and is buried by between three and 33 feet of the planet’s dusty layer of clay in various locations.
The fact that the ice is located just under 10 meters from the surface, experts believe, could indicate that it is relatively not that old. The water’s depth, it is believed ranges from 260-560 feet (80-170 meters) and is made up of between 50 and 85 percent water ice, mixed with various dirt and rock particles.
If these projections are true, Mars’ ice deposition could hold approximately 2,900 cubic miles of water.
Hence, the comparison to Lake Superior.
“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars,” said the study’s co-author, Jack Holt, “because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice.”
Holt, who works as a researcher with the University of Texas, Austin, helped lead the survey alongside Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas.
In particular, researchers used a shallow radar tool on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This tool is capable of peaking below the surface, and works well for investigating features such as that that scientists call “scalloped depressions.”
These types of geographical features, which Geophysical Research Letters noted are common for Mars’ Utopia Planitia region, are “similar to landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that lie atop buried ice.”
Unfortunately, the entire body of Mars’ ice deposit is thoroughly frozen.
This disappointing fact makes it very difficult for scientists to try to take the next logical step toward proving the existence of life on Mars. After all, life on Earth, scientists feel, is tied almost exclusively with the presence of liquid water.
Despite this problematic realization, however, researchers still consider the discovery of such a massive quantity of ice on the planet absolutely groundbreaking.
“The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren’t just an exploration resource,” said Joe Levy, also of the University of Texas.
“They’re also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars. We don’t understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others. Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.”
This curiosity has resulted in speculation that the ice deposit likely formed during a period of what scientists call a “high-tilt” era. In this type of condition, snow is believed to more rapidly accumulate at middle latitudes of a planet rather than largely at the North and South Poles, as it tends to do on Earth.
In general, scientists believe that this theory, which was also posited by Stuurman, could eventually help provide researchers with new information regarding how Mars’ climate has changed over time, potentially even spanning back across billions of years.
And being armed with this knowledge, some believe, could ultimately provide improved insight into larger questions that we have about our neighboring planet, including — but not limited to — uncovering evidence of the existence of past life on the “Big Red Planet.”
[Featured Image by NASA/Arizona State University via Getty Images]