Scientists Want To Be Sure There's An Underground Lake On Mars

Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars

They spent at least two years examining the data to make sure they'd detected water, not ice or another substance.

Data was collected for roughly three years using an instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft that penetrated the Martian ice caps and sent back radar pulses to the Express.

Such radar reflects brightly where ice and water meet, a method scientist have used to detect sub-glacial lakes on Earth.

"In light blue you can see where the reflections from the bottom are stronger than surface reflection".

"This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered", said Roberto Orosei in a statement.




Salts in the lake are believed to have kept the water - which has a temperature as low as -68C (-90F) - from freezing over. The Martian water news cycle is pretty active, thanks to multiple discoveries of ice deposits on the surface and frozen vapor in the atmosphere.

Water is essential to life as we know it. Scientists have long sought to prove that the liquid is present on Mars. It stretched about 12.5 miles across and looked very similar to lakes that are found beneath Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets on Earth. After decades of speculating - and finding signs of a watery history - this is the first compelling evidence for lakes on the red planet. The blue triangle indicates an area of very high reflectivity, interpreted as being caused by the presence of a reservoir of water, about a mile below the surface.

The tool is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS), and was created to find subsurface water by sending radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps. Though the mission has been in progress since 2003, this is their first major piece of evidence that liquid water now exists anywhere on the red planet.

In 2015, the appearance of Mars as a desolate, dry, lifeless planet was significantly challenged after a team of researchers announced it had discovered evidence of running liquid water on its surface. The announcement is likely to get scientists thinking about how to use existing instruments orbiting Mars to give this region a more careful examination. Dr. Manish Patel from the Open University told BBC that scientists have long known the surface of Mars is uninhabitable, but life could exists below the surface.

Rebecca Mickol, a former UA graduate student, and Tim Kral, a UA biological sciences professor, wrote about the possibility of certain types of microorganisms surviving and growing on Mars in studies published this year by the academic journal Planetary and Space Science. "Those are not ideal conditions for life to form", Siebach said.

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