Scientists find first persistent water source on Mars

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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.

When Orosei and his colleagues analyzed the data, they saw what looked like a lake of water about 12 miles in diameter and a mile below a surface layer made up of water ice and dust.

The European Space Agency (ESA) revealed today evidence gathered by the Mars Express spacecraft that shows an anomaly that could indicate the existence of a long-suspected liquid water lake beneath the exoplanet's surface. Further evaluation of the bright feature indicated an interface between the ice and a stable body of liquid water.

The team used MARSIS to survey Mars' "Planum Australe" region from May 2012 to December 2015 and has finally announced "radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars" in a study published to Science.

Lake beds like those explored by Nasa's Curiosity rover show water was present on the surface of Mars in the past.

The body of water is about 12.5 miles across and sequestered beneath almost a mile of ice at the south pole.

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"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", he added.

"We don't see the same reflector with SHARAD, not even when we recently summed together [thousands] of observations to create CATSCAN-like 3-D views of both polar caps", Nathaniel Putzig, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter SHARAD deputy team leader and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said in an email.

This discovery suggests that there could be a place somewhere between the surface of the planet and the core where it's not too cold or too hot and liquid water can exist.

Orosei's team interprets the bright reflection as the interface between overlying ice and a pool or pond of liquid water.

Several researchers said it would be crucial to figure out whether this body of water is the only one, or part of an interconnecting body of underground aquifers - in part because a network increases the possibility it could have harbored life. Water survives frozen in polar ice caps and in subsurface ice deposits.

Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in an email that the interpretation that it is liquid water is "certainly plausible, but it's not quite a slam dunk yet". "And so as we go outward from the Earth, looking for evidence of life beyond Earth, we're always looking for liquid water". "Whether life has ever existed on Mars remains an open question".

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"If there is microbial life operating there, it's operating under conditions that would be at the very limits of what we know life operates under here on Earth", said Brent Christner, a microbiologist at the University of Florida.

However, its radar technology varies slightly from the one onboard the Mars Express.

Some experts are skeptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, and mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals.

High levels of salt and temperatures dozens of degrees below zero do not bode well for any microbes trying to live there, Stillman says.

Scientists have also traveled deep underground into mines and found microorganisms related to ancient species that once lived in watery environments much closer to the surface.

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