Published: Thu, July 26, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Large Liquid Water Lake Just Discovered Beneath the Surface of Mars

Large Liquid Water Lake Just Discovered Beneath the Surface of Mars

In a big scientific breakthrough, scientists have reportedly found a sizable liquid lake on the southern polar plain of Mars. This was taken up by Percival Lowell, who used the idea of canals to promote the idea in his book Mars and its Canals(1906) that there was a vast and lush ecosystem on Mars, complete with life intelligent enough to make planet-spanning canals to take water from the poles to irrigate canals.

He suspects Mars may contain other hidden bodies of water, waiting to be discovered.

In the past, Mars had already been home to bodies of water as evidenced by dry bed lakes and river valleys on its surface. Between 2012 and 2015, the spacecraft confirmed the existence of the bright reflections during 29 passes over the south polar region.

Time and time again across the entire observing campaign the new MARSIS readings revealed a consistent 20-kilometer-wide bright spot nestled in a bowl-like depression beneath the ice cap in Planum Australe-a feature consistent with a sizable body of liquid water (or, to be fair, with water-saturated sediments more akin to subterranean sludge).

Scientists operating ground-penetrating radar on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, which is orbiting the red planet, announced the finding on Wednesday, ending decades of speculation. But scientists thought that Mars had lost the majority of its liquid water.

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The lake likely stays liquid due to salts from Martian rocks dissolving into the water, coupled with the pressure of the ice above.

"For water to exist under the surface it has to be deep and really salty, and that last part is significant because that is exactly the type of place you go look for lifeforms".

Given its location beneath the polar ice cap, the water is expected to be below the freezing point of water. They were not the first successful landing-that credit belongs to the Soviet Union's Mars 3 lander-but they were the first landers to complete their task, which was to directly sample the surrounding soil, rocks and air while looking for signs of life.

"We had to come up with a new operating mode to bypass some onboard processing and trigger a higher sampling rate and thus improve the resolution of the footprint of our dataset: Now we see things that simply were not possible before", Cicchetti said.

For the past 12 years MARSIS has mapped the Martian underground using beams of low-frequency radar pulses, which can penetrate up to several kilometers beneath the surface.

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The evidence comes from an instrument called MARSIS aboard the European Space Agency Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet.

"Whether similar scenarios are occurring on Mars remain to be experimentally established, but this finding of potential liquid water beneath the surface of Mars opens up fascinating areas of space exploration".

"Maybe this could even be the trigger for an ambitious new Mars mission to drill into this buried water-pocket - like has been done for sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica on Earth".

Then, they were reflected back to the radar aboard the Mars Express, providing geological information on the portion of planet under examination.

Since humans could see through telescopes across space, Mars has been the favorite abode of imaginary life, the backyard just over the fence where astronomer Percival Lowell imagined he could see canals and even cities webbing the orange globe.

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Beneath this, researchers spotted something unusual 1.5km beneath the ice.

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