Big Sheets of Water Ice Lie Just Beneath the Surface of Mars

Water on Mars

New data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) revealed the existence of clean water ice reserves beneath the Red Planet's surface.

There's a lot of mystery surrounding Mars, but scientists have recently made a groundbreaking discovery: ice.

NASA and other organizations hoping to send people to Mars want to harvest as many resources from the planet itself as possible in order to limit the amount of stuff they would need to send from Earth off to Mars. Furthermore, some of these massive ice deposits were found to be more than 330 feet (100 meters) thick.

This high-resolution HiRISE image shows an icy scarp on Mars in the context of a broader area. 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.

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. Researchers explain that regions like this may mean frozen water will be more easily accessible to humans and robots than previously anticipated.

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A cross-section of a thick sheet of underground ice is exposed at the steep slope that appears bright blue in this enhanced-color view of Mars from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in this image released on January 11, 2018.

This study was funded by NASA with research done in collaboration with the University of Arizona, the Planetary Science Institute, Georgia Tech, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas.

Shane Byrne, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and one of the study's authors, told Reuters the discovery a potential "game-changer" for human exploration of Mars.

'It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground, ' said Byrne. "The presence of banding and color variations suggest layers", they argue, "possibly deposited with changes in the proportion of ice and dust under varying climate conditions". The newly discovered ice deposits are thick sheets just under the Martian surface, and parts of the sheets are exposed in eight sites on steep slopes up to 100 meters tall. When does ice accumulate? Dundas et al. used data from two orbiting spacecraft to examine eight locations where erosion has occurred.

UNDERGROUND ice supplies have been discovered on Mars which could provide unlimited water for humans looking to colonise the Red Planet. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips. We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate.

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