Published: Thu, July 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Scientists discover underground lake on Mars

Scientists discover underground lake on Mars

While the temperature is expected to be well below freezing point, only pure water freezes at 0 degrees, notes the release. Life has been found in the poisonous, arsenic-rich waters of Lake Mono, California.

The proposed "lake" sits beneath the planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km (12 miles) across.

"This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered", said Orosei and Dmitri Titov, ESA's Mars Express project scientist. "It will open up a very interesting area of science on Mars", he says.

For years, "follow the water" has been the mantra of NASA and indeed humanity's search for life somewhere else. Orosei suspects that salts, especially the perchlorates that have been found in the planet's soils, could be lowering the ice's melting point. The surface is scored by old gorges, canyons, beaches, ocean basins and giant volcanoes, whose eruptions could have kept things riled up on the planet. "We can show that there's enough energy to drive chemotrophic life-life that doesn't need sun, but lives on chemistry", he said. It's also a place where extraterrestrial life could be flourishing. If astronauts ever crunch across the red sands will they also be crunching over fossils of microbes? "However, MARSIS can not say anything more". "We may guess about what are the conditions and if the conditions are favorable".

Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University and the lead scientist of Australia's Science Channel, says the liquid water is not a lake that you would want to swim in. That is tens of billions of gallons.

An Italian team made the discovery analysing a radar survey that was done between 2012 and 2015 by the Mars Express orbiter spacecraft. Over the years, spacecrafts and rovers have uncovered evidence of its watery past. Intense pressure of the overlying ice would warm the ice. "This is something that is to us the tell tale sign of the presence of water", Prof Orosei said. They can not see the bottom with existing equipment, but they estimate it is at least three feet deep, otherwise they would not have detected it at all.

Radar images of reflective regions that suggest the presence of liquid water.

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These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface". Subsurface imaging relies on the fact that borders between materials with different properties will bounce back a portion of the incoming radar signal.

While Pettinelli said SHARAD's radar uses too high a radar frequency to see the signal, another researcher had a another take. In the Antarctic, all similar values have been associated with liquid water.

But there has been no conclusive evidence of liquid water existing on the planet in its current state until now. "There, water is salty and there are single-cell organisms that survive in such an environment, with a metabolism that makes use of the salts in the water", he said.

The Mars Express spacecraft discovered the body of water beneath the southern ice cap. SHARAD operates at different frequencies than MARSIS does, but it's also created to pick up subsurface features.

While the team was unable to detect the bottom of the lake, they estimate it is about 3 feet deep.

"They haven't seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years", he said.

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