Scientists have found new evidence of liquid water under the south polar ice cap of Mars in a major breakthrough

Scientists have discovered new evidence pointing to the possible presence of liquid water on Mars – a breakthrough in our long-running effort to determine if the Red Planet ever hosted life.

The Cambridge University-led study provides the first independent evidence using data other than radar for the presence of liquid water beneath Mars’ south polar ice cap.

Dr Francis Butcher, second author of the study from the University of Sheffield, said in a statement: “This study provides the best indication yet that there is liquid water on Mars today because it means two key clues I will look for when looking for subglacial lakes on Earth that It is now found on Mars.

Scientists have discovered new evidence suggesting that there may be liquid water on Mars – a breakthrough in our long-running effort to determine if the Red Planet ever hosted life.

He added in his book that “liquid water is an essential component of life, although it does not necessarily imply the presence of life on Mars.” statement.

To be liquid in these cold temperatures, the water below Antarctica would need to be really salty, making it difficult for any microbial life to inhabit.

“However, it does give hope that there were more habitable environments in the past when the climate was less harsh.”

The international research team, which also included scientists from the University of Nantes and University College Dublin, used the spacecraft’s laser altimeter measurements of the shape of the ice cap’s upper surface to determine precise patterns in its elevation.

The international research team, which also included scientists from the University of Nantes and University College Dublin, used the spacecraft's laser altimeter measurements of the shape of the ice cap's upper surface to determine precise patterns in its elevation.  Above: Mars' south polar cap is shown in the new study's topographical analysis

The international research team, which also included scientists from the University of Nantes and University College Dublin, used the spacecraft’s laser altimeter measurements of the shape of the ice cap’s upper surface to determine precise patterns in its elevation. Above: Mars’ south polar cap is shown in the new study’s topographical analysis

They then showed that these patterns matched computer model predictions of how a body of water under the ice sheet would affect the surface.

Like Earth, Mars has thick water ice sheets at both poles, which are roughly equivalent in combined volume to the Greenland ice sheet.

However, unlike Earth’s ice sheets, which have large glacial lakes and water channels beneath them, Mars’ polar ice caps are believed to have frozen all the way down to Earth’s rocks due to the red planet’s frigid climate.

Average temperatures on Mars are chilling -81 degrees Fahrenheit, but can dip as low as -220 degrees Fahrenheit in winter at the poles.

The researchers’ findings were published today in the journal natural astronomyis consistent with previous ice-penetrating radar measurements that were originally interpreted to show a potential region of liquid water under the ice.

It gives hope that there were more habitable environments in the past when the climate was less harsh.  The area containing the inferred water

It gives hope that there were more habitable environments in the past when the climate was less harsh. The area containing the inferred water

Mars: the basics

Mars is the fourth planet away from the sun, with a cold, dusty desert world that is almost dead with a very thin atmosphere.

Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar ice caps, canyons, and extinct volcanoes, evidence that it was more active in the past.

It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system, and the only planet that humans have sent their rovers to explore.

One day on Mars takes just over 24 hours and a year is 687 Earth days.

facts and figures

orbital: 687 days

surface area: 144.8 million square kilometers

distance from the sun: 227.9 million km

gravity: 3.721 m/s²

radius: 3389.5 km

moons: Phobos, Deimos

Combining new topographic evidence with our computer model results and radar data makes it likely that at least one region of subglacial liquid water exists on Mars today, and that Mars is still thermally active in order to conserve water. Under the liquid of the ice cap, Professor Neil Arnold, of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, who led the research, explained.

The team used a variety of techniques to examine data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor satellite on the surface relief of the portion of Mars’ south polar ice cap where the radar signal was identified.

Their analysis revealed a surface ripple of 10-15 km in length that includes a depression and a corresponding elevated area, both deviating from the surrounding ice surface by several metres.

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This is similar in size to ripples over glacial lakes here on Earth.

Next, the scientists tested whether the observed ripple on the ice surface could be explained by the liquid water in the bed.

Then they ran computer simulations of the ice flow that were adapted to the specific conditions of Mars.

Next, they inserted a patch of reduced bed friction into the simulated ice sheet where water, if present, would allow the ice to slide and accelerate.

Their experiments generated ripples on the simulated ice surface that were similar in size and shape to those the team observed on the surface of the real ice sheet.

The similarity between the computer model produced the ripple and the spacecraft’s actual observations, along with earlier radar evidence of ice penetration, indicating that there was an accumulation of liquid water under Mars’ south polar ice cap.

The results also indicate that magnetic activity occurred relatively recently in the planet’s interior to enable the enhanced geothermal heating needed to keep water in a liquid state.

The quality of the data coming from Mars, from orbiting satellites as well as from the probe, is such that we can use it to answer really tough questions about conditions on the planet’s surface, and even below its surface, using the same techniques we also use on the planet, Arnold said.

“It’s exciting to use these technologies to discover things about planets other than our own.”

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