Scientists Find Thick Ice Below the Surface of Mars

Scientists Find Thick Ice Below the Surface of Mars

A team of scientists, led by Colin Dundas, a geologist at the US Geological Survey, analyzed data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), specifically looking at eight areas where erosion occurred.

When NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft arrived on the planet in 2001, it found traces of hydrogen on the red planet through its gamma-ray spectrometer.

Similar to ice cores recovered from the Earth's surface, these ice sheets may preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate on Mars. Evidently the near-surface ice and the large subsurface deposits are one and the same, says Ali Bramson, a co-author and graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. And although researchers suspected the subsurface glaciers existed, they would only be a useful resource if they were no more than a few meters below the surface.

Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, has also discussed plans for private manned missions to Mars.

Fantastic images from NASA have revealed eight ice sites going as deep as 100 metres and just a few feet below the surface.

But scientists now say they have discovered a mountain of frozen water lying just under the surface of the red planet; enough to help sustain a human colony. That snow, over many years, has been compacted and "transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 meters of dry and ice-cemented dust", according to the study. Transporting water would be expensive: the heavier the payload atop a rocket, the more fuel is needed, which in turn increases the cost.

It has been known for some time that some locations on Mars have water ice just below the surface - but until now, there has been no accurate way to know just how much.

". The question is how much energy/work does it take to extract the water, to transport it to where the humans are and then to process it?" As the ice deposits are covered by just a few feet of Martian dirt, this could possibly allow future astronomers who travel to Mars to access those ice sheets.

The "game-changing" discovery could be vital to human explorers in the future, reported the U.S. journal Science yesterday. These scarps are thought to be formed by a process called sublimation, where ice is lost to the atmosphere by transformation into water vapor without ever turning into liquid.

Aside from potentially aiding in human exploration of Mars, the newly-mapped ice sheets could also unlock secrets hidden in Mars' past.

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