Martian Ice Newly Detected, Could Supply Water for Human Outposts

Saturday, 13 Jan, 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". Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent.

Scientists, using a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) spacecraft, have discovered thick deposits of ice beneath the surface of Mars.

The discovery is particularly exciting for future human exploration of the planet previously renowned for its dry arid landscape.

The scientists spotted eight sites where huge ice deposits near the Martian surface are exposed on steep slopes, Reuters reported. "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 U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, who led the study. Because the ice is only visible where surface soil has been removed, Dundas et al. say it is likely that ice near the surface is even more extensive than detected in this study.

Eight scarps, with slopes as steep as 55 degrees, reveal new information about the internal layered structure of previously detected underground ice sheets in Mars' middle latitudes, the United States space agency said. The researchers didn't leave this to simple colour interpretation, though.

Researchers previously believed that Martian surface might have absorbed water on the Red Planet. "You don't see a high-tech solution", Byrne added.

A close-up of the false colour portion of the above image, focusing in on the scarp to reveal the details. They hold clues about Mars' climate history. The size of the deposit, however, means that it will be a very long time before it completely sublimates into the atmosphere.

A lander or rover sent to drill down into one of these locations could provide us with a detailed chronology of Mars' past climate, and according to Byrne, "Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need".

The authors of the study have said that the latest discovery will be helpful for the establishment of a base on the Red Planet, as the water could be used for drinking, potentially create oxygen and fuel.