Published: Wed, July 25, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Mars shocker: Liquid water lake found on the Red Planet

Mars shocker: Liquid water lake found on the Red Planet

Data was collected for roughly three years using an instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft that penetrated the Martian ice caps and sent back radar pulses to the Express.

A team of scientists announced today that they had found a large body of liquid water beneath the southern ice caps of Mars.

The hunt for evidence of past or present life on Mars has gotten a number of boosts in recent decades, including the discovery of what might be organic molecules in rock samples, but the biggest question on the minds of those who imagine the planet might have supported life is that of water.

"We have long since known that the surface of Mars is inhospitable to life as we know it, so the search for life on Mars is now in the subsurface", Manish Patel from the Open University said.

"This is a stunning result that suggests water on Mars is not a temporary trickle like previous discoveries but a persistent body of water that provides the conditions for life for extended periods of time", said Alan Duffy, an associate professor at Swinburne University in Australia, who was not involved in the study.

The Mars Express spacecraft discovered the body of water beneath the southern ice cap.

"We were not seeing the thing that was right under our noses", says Roberto Orosei, a principal investigator (PI) for MARSIS at the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics in Bologna. For example, Nasa's Curiosity rover has explored lake beds which show there used to be water 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.

A massive underground lake has been detected for the first time on Mars, raising the possibility that more water - and maybe even life - exists there, worldwide astronomers said Wednesday.

The publication states that the find is so large that it resembles subglacial lakes on Earth.

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"This is a discovery of extraordinary significance, and is bound to heighten speculation about the presence of living organisms on the Red Planet", said Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory. The only other evidence of liquid water on Mars has been of transient seasonal flows and ancient bodies of water. That data revealed what appears to be evidence of liquid water sitting trapped beneath the ice on the planet's pole.

Stofan says the water in the Martian underground lake is probably salty, otherwise if would freeze solid, even deep in the ground.

"Together with the pressure of the overlying ice, this lowers the melting point, allowing the lake to remain liquid - as happens on Earth".

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".

However, while the find is tantalizing for astrobiologists eager to find alien life, it's also a bit of a tease.

However, the planet's climate has since cooled due to its thin atmosphere, leaving most of its water locked up in ice.

"Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form", Orosei said.

Mars Express orbiting Mars with a cross section of radar echoes superimposed and tilted 90 degrees.

Carbon compounds and minerals have already been found on the Martian surface.

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