Mars: Large Ice Deposits Found

Pat Wise
January 13, 2018

"The ice is concentrated in layered deposits at the poles, and also found in the shallow sub-surface at middle latitudes, as in our study".

The surface of the planet had been mapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in much detail and Dundas and his colleagues used its pictures to locate exposed ice in small craters, glaciers and ice sheets.

The discovery was possible due to images and data sent by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), launched in 2005. A study published Thursday by the journal Science contends this is a "game changer" for future human outposts.

Scientists examining the images send back by MRO have found eight different locations on Mars that reveal vast deposits of nearly pure water ice, which lie just 2 metres (6.5 feet) below the surface.

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The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. In 2008, the Phoenix lander analyzed and confirmed the Odyssey findings as it discovered buried water ice at 68 degrees north latitude or about one-third into the planet's pole. The 3D images were studied by scientists using the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera. However, previous scans using the MRO's Shallow Radar instrument were not enough to determine the extent and make-up of ice on the Red Planet.

Scientists now want to seek out similar cliffs closer to the equator, hoping that the next surprise awaiting them is the discovery of ice nearer to the tropics. This discovery came from spotting the edges of these deposits, which are eroding away to form tall cliffs that expose the ice to the thin Martian air. "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". "In the mid-latitudes, it's normally covered by a blanket of dust or regolith", loose bits of rock atop a layer of bedrock, said research geologist Colin Dundas of the US Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, who led the study.

Additionally, the scientists discovered the ice sheets in eight difference places that could be future sources of water for astronauts. "You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need". What's more, bands and variations in color suggest that the ice contains distinct layers, which could be used to understand changes in Mars' climate over time (the ice sheets themselves likely formed as snow accumulated over time).

NASA plans to send the first human explorers to Mars by the 2030s.

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