Huge underground lake found on Mars


Liquid water has been found about a mile beneath Mars south polar ice cap.

Richard Zurek, the chief scientist in the Mars program office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the complex, nearly chaotic structure of the ice caps could affect the radar signals in unexpected ways.

Salts in the lake are believed to have kept the water - which has a temperature as low as -68C (-90F) - from freezing over.

Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water, ' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected. Although the researchers only found evidence in a 20km-wide zone, they consider there to be subsurface water in other locations too.

How much dust? It's an estimated 3 trillion kilograms displaced between the surface and atmosphere of Mars each year.

The supposed lake was discovered using radar technology on the Mars Express spacecraft which relayed data between mid-2012 and late 2015.

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Italian researchers using radar to probe the planet's polar ice caps have detected a lake of liquid water under the Martian ice, stretching 20 kilometers across, according to the study.

But on Mars, things like water and glacial activity are at a minimum, and other phenomena that could separate particles of rock - such as meteorite impacts - would create coarser fragments, not the fine powder that's choking Opportunity as we speak.

But so far, no clear evidence of liquid water has turned up, but the new evidence gives some strong hints that it might be there. Life has been found in the poisonous, arsenic-rich waters of Lake Mono, California.

"This really qualifies this as a body of water". A tool onboard the spacecraft sends radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps of the planet and reflections off subsurface features provide scientists with information about what lies below.

What does this mean for life?

"It's plausible that the water may be an extremely cold, concentrated brine, which would be pretty challenging for life", explained Dr Claire Cousins, an astrobiologist from the University of St Andrews, UK.

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But also, the more hard it is to, because laws of planetary protection state that we can not send any craft from Earth near a potential site of life for fear of contamination.

Scientists could not measure the thickness of the lake, but said that it had to be around a metre or so thick for the radar pulses to bounce back.

Orbiters, together with landers and rovers exploring the Martian surface, also discovered minerals that can only form in the presence of liquid water.

To find the water, Italian researchers analyzed radar signals collected over three years by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft. There are microorganisms on Earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.

For as long as anyone can remember, Mars was the planet that scientists, astronomers and stargazers looked to and wondered 'is there life out there?'.

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. The footprints are color-coded corresponding to the "power" of the radar signal reflected from features below the surface. "Drilling 1.5km beneath the surface of another planet is hard", says Coates.

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