Evidence of liquid water lakes under polar ice caps on Mars

Liquid water on Mars! Lake discovered under Martian ice cap

A lake of liquid water has been detected by radar beneath the southern polar ice cap of Mars, according to a new study by Italian researchers from the Italian Space Agency, published Wednesday in the journal Science.

ESA's Mars Express orbiter has used radar signals bounced through underground layers of ice to find evidence of liquid water trapped below the south polar cap of the Red Planet.

But the climate has changed significantly over the course of the planet's 4.6-billion-year history and liquid water can not exist on the surface today, so scientists are looking underground.

The lake likely stays liquid due to salts from Martian rocks dissolving into the water, coupled with the pressure of the ice above.

"The presence of a body of liquid water beneath Mars's south polar cap has various implications, opening new possibilities for the existence of microorganisms in the Martian environment", says Sebastian Lauro, a study co-author based at Roma Tre University in Rome.

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

"It's probably not a very large lake".

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Mars is now cold and dry, but 3.6 billion years ago was home to plenty of liquid water. It will require flying a robot there, which is capable of drilling through 1.5 kilometers of ice.

But there has been no conclusive evidence of liquid water existing on the planet in its current state until now. The announcement is likely to get scientists thinking about how to use existing instruments orbiting Mars to give this region a more careful examination. When pointed at the surface ice caps of the planet, it measures how radio waves penetrate and reflect back to the spacecraft. We've known for good while that it should be there-"No doubt there is water on Mars", NASA wrote in 1967-we just needed to answer the very big questions of how much there was, what form it took, and where it could be found.

Twenty-two years later, as with every discovery of liquid water on another world, one inevitably asks: Is there life?

"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. 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. The only other evidence of liquid water on Mars has been of transient seasonal flows and ancient bodies of water.

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

"The estimated temperature, which is to be debated to some degree, at the depth at which this water is occurring is said to be 205 K [90˚ F]", said Vlada Stamenković, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The scientists analyzed radar profiles, within a 200 km-wide area, collected between May 2012 and December 2015. There, as on Mars, the surface is barren, but is more hospitable farther down. The nature of reflections off the subterranean features offer scientists information about exactly what lies beneath the surface and the data says there is liquid water. And unfortunately, we don't have that understanding-the instrument was simply too large to open it up and calibrate it on the ground before Mars Express was launched.

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