Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Scientists say water is buried beneath Martian landscape

Credit Getty Credit Getty
Kristen Harrington | 28 July, 2018, 17:55

A water pond spotted beneath the surface of Mars marks a turning point in the search for life on the red planet, scientists say.

It has been known from earlier measurements by spacecraft, including the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, that there is water ice at the poles of Mars.

Artist's rendition of the Mars Express orbiter. Coloured region represents strength of ground penetrating radar reflections, with deep blue corresponding to echoes from water. It would be at least 20 kilometers wide and would have to be "several tens of centimeters thick" - otherwise the radar could not have detected it.

With surface temperatures as low as minus 68C, it would not exist as a liquid under normal conditions.

"It's plausible that the water may be an extremely cold, concentrated brine, which would be pretty challenging for life", said Dr. Claire Cousins, an astrobiologist.

Credit Getty
Credit Getty

"Since United Launch Alliance put a price on delivering water in space in 2016, researchers, agencies and companies have focused on water, for support of life and chemical processes, and for conversion to hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel", he said.

MARSIS "then measures how the radio waves propagate and reflect back to the spacecraft", said the study. "What helped the liquid water to be stable?"

"This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist", said planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science.

If you're now asking yourself, "Wait, didn't they already find water on Mars?" then you're not wrong. The left-most white line is the surface radar echo, while the light bluespots highlight areas of very high reflectivity, thought to be caused by water. This means that scientists can't specify whether it's an underground pool, an aquifer-like body, or just a layer of sludge.

According to DailyMail report, the reservoir which spans 20km and is buried a mile (1.6km) underground, was discovered by scientists using radar to "probe" the Red Planet's south polar ice cap.

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Liquid water is an essential requirement of life as we know it.

But because of the thin atmosphere and the cooling of the planet, most of its water is locked up in ice.

"We are fairly certain that there is liquid water below the surface".

The concentration of salts needed to keep the water liquid could be fatal for any microbial life similar to Earth's, which means caution needs to be taken, with no immediate means of sampling the water. "This really qualifies this as a body of water".

"That water could be sourced from asteroids, the moon, or Mars".

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The radar data showed that the lake contained a large amount of salt, Prof Orosei added.

Mars and Earth were closer than this year in 2003, when the two planets were just 55.7 million km apart, which was the closest in almost 60,000 years and won't happen again until 2287, NASA said.

"There are single-celled organisms that survive in such an environment with a metabolism that makes use of the salt", said the professor.

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