Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Science | By Hubert Green

Scientists Find Deep Deposits Of Ice Below Martian Surface

Scientists Find Deep Deposits Of Ice Below Martian Surface

If such a scene sounds otherworldly, it is.

The likelihood that any of the eight glacial cliffs seen so far will one day support a year-round Martian base aren't great because they're all still at high enough latitudes that the winters would be quite dim and chilly.

"Finding water ice like this is a very important step in opening up habitability of Mars".

"These shallow depths make the ice sheets potentially accessible to future exploration", the authors wrote, "and the scarps present cross-sections of these ices that record past episodes of ice deposition on Mars".

If there is a relatively large cache of ice just under the Martian surface, as this study - which is based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) - suggests, it could help any future explorers who would want to use utilize it fuel or even just water.

What's more, bands and variations in color suggest that the ice contains distinct layers, which could be used to understand changes in Mars' climate over time (the ice sheets themselves likely formed as snow accumulated over time).

It is not news that Mars is icy.

There have likewise been noteworthy inquiries regarding how unadulterated Mars ice is.

The researchers think the uncovered ice isn't steady at the generally warm surface temperatures.

A photo of a crater on Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. And we need water ice on Mars because we can combine it with the Carbon dioxide that's very abundant in the atmosphere, and that gives us two very important things for future manned habitability of Mars. But of course it's hard to confirm the identity of the layers seen in radar echoes, and the instrument doesn't have the resolution to figure out how close the ice might be to the surface beyond "less than 20 meters". That indicates a sub-layer that is "somehow compositionally different" than the red dirt. The sheets are at least 100 meters thick and appear to preserve layers that may help us reconstruct how the water ended up frozen there.

That said, it may not be all that easy to access the ice found in the new study.

The scarps exist along the planet's middle latitudes, ruling out glaciers that migrated from the poles. In any case, Dundas says that "at these areas its a significant thick ice sheet of rather clean ice". Balme agreed that snowfall probably created the ice over a period of a few thousand years.

Scientists say an analysis of the deposits would unleash a treasure trove of information to geologists about the past Martian climate.

However, once the buried ice becomes exposed to Mars" atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it "retreats, ' due to sublimation of the ice directly from solid form into water vapor. Boulders and dust that rested on the ice suddenly had their foundation vanish into the atmosphere. Air pockets trapped in the ice provide tiny, prehistoric samples of air that can be analyzed.

This news could be key for potential human excursions to Mars.

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