Mars on June 28, 2018, shows the extent of the storm. The peak of Olympus Mons (at 25 km high!) shows over it, as well as other volcanoes, while other features are hard to distinguish (a map on the right provides context). Credit: Damian Peach
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Mars on June 28, 2018, shows the extent of the storm. The peak of Olympus Mons (at 25 km high!) shows over it, as well as other volcanoes, while other features are hard to distinguish (a map on the right provides context). Credit: Damian Peach

Life on Mars? Italian Space Agency detects possible liquid lake under Red Planet's ice caps

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Jul 25, 2018

Care to take a dip on Mars? Using ice-penetrating radar from orbit, researchers from the Italian Space Agency reportedly found a lake deep beneath the Red Planet's polar ice caps.

Their findings were published today in Science Magazine and serve as the first proof (if entirely true) of liquid water on Mars, a planet which many believe will one day serve as a refuge for humanity

“It’s a very exciting result: the first indication of a briny aquifer on Mars,” said geophysicist David Stillman of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. 

According to early hypotheses, however, the lake is most likely too cold and salty to sustain any sort of life. 

Between May 2012 and December 2015, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (or "MARSIS" for short) surveyed the region of Mars known as the Planum Australe, a 200-kilometer area on the planet's southern polar plain, which is composed of water ice, CO2 ice, and admixed dust. 

Twenty-nine "radar profiles" of this area were taken using radio pulses, creating a picture of the layers underneath the ice caps, at least mile beneath the surface of Mars. After going through the data, it was discovered that there were varying levels of brightness. Certain areas had "a greater intensity (bright reflections) than the surrounding areas and the surface," intimating at the existence of liquid. 

Martin Siegert, a geophysicist at Imperial College London, compared the find to the pools located under Greenland and Antarctica. 

“It will open up a very interesting area of science on Mars,” he said. 

Based on the report, the idea of water at the base of Mars' ice caps has been the subject of debate for over three decades. The search for liquid on the planet on the part of MARSIS has been ongoing for the last 12 years. With such encouraging results now published, those involved with the hunt are sure to be emboldened.


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