Giant Liquid Water 'Lake' Discovered On Mars

NASA  ESA  Hubble Heritage Team- STScI  AURA J. Bell- ASU M. Wolff- Space Science Institute via AP

NASA ESA Hubble Heritage Team- STScI AURA J. Bell- ASU M. Wolff- Space Science Institute via AP

"This is potentially the first habitat we know of on Mars".

Speaking with the BBC, Orosei said it probably isn't "a very large lake", but added that this is a body of water and not runoff from a glacier or something else. It was home to plenty of liquid water and lakes at least 3.6 billion years ago.

This is an artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars. That will allow scientists to create models of the heat flowing out of the planet, like a cake that's cooling off after it has been baked - and should give insight into whether it's plausible that the temperature could be high enough to keep water in liquid form at that depth. It was discovered as they surveyed the Planum Australe region near Mars' southern ice cap, which is made of water ice covered by frozen carbon dioxide. Brine lakes on Earth can remain liquid at 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study. The readings they obtained between May 2012 and December 2015 mirrors data from subsurface liquid water under ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland here on Earth.

Unlike many Mars discoveries, this particular revelation is all but definitive. The process requires a detailed understanding of the radar signals that were transmitted downward toward Mars by Mars Express. The Mars water would have to have a similar make-up to actually be liquid.

Radar instruments like Marsis examine the surface and immediate subsurface of the planet by sending out a signal and examining what is bounced back.

Some experts are skeptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, and mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals. "Those are not ideal conditions for life to form", Siebach said.

MARSIS operations manager Andrea Cicchetti said hints of subsurface anomalies had been detected before, but past attempts to confirm the results were foiled because the radar sampling rates were too low.

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"We discovered water on Mars, " said Roberto Orosei, a scientist at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics and the co-investigator on MARSIS, in a video about the discovery. It also opens up the possibility that it is a reservoir not just of water, but of life.

The publication states that the find is so large that it resembles subglacial lakes on Earth.

Planetary scientists have been embarked on a quest to find liquid water on the red planet, because life as we know it can not survive without water to act as a solvent in its biochemistry.

Researchers said they are not sure how far down it goes, but may be around one meter (three feet) deep. Another problem is that SHARAD, the Shallow Radar instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, operates at a higher frequency designed for studying ice on the surface.

However, the presence of liquid water does not necessarily mean this region of Mars is habitable.

Green said that a lander mission called InSight that's already on its way to Mars might be able to help provide corroborating evidence.

"Even with those limitations, we've now found that there is likely to be liquid water in the Martian subsurface", Stamenkovic said.

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