Researchers spot what looks like a standing ‘lake’ of water on Mars

USGS Astogeology Science Center  Arizona State University ESA  INAF		An artist’s conception of the spacecraft scan over the underground lake

USGS Astogeology Science Center Arizona State University ESA INAF An artist’s conception of the spacecraft scan over the underground lake

Until now, we knew that water exists in ice around the planet, as well as that there are signs of liquid water on the surface.

The body of water is about 20 kilometres across and, if confirmed, would be the first evidence of permanent water on the Red Planet. The discovery was reported in the journal Science. In 1987, the astronomer Stephen M. Clifford theorized that liquid water might be hiding, deep below the planet's polar ice caps.

The presence of liquid water on Mars has always been suspected but thus far evidence from MARSIS remained inconclusive.

"Many scientists have said "where there is water, there is the potential for life". It was home to plenty of liquid water and lakes at least 3.6 billion years ago.

New findings from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. The discovery means we could be one step closer to finding evidence of extraterrestrial life on the red planet. "There's enough energy, but the problem we ran into is we didn't have a hydraulic system to keep it going".

The discovery has raised a possibility that life may be there on Mars in some form.

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That could lower the freezing point for the water, along with pressure from the ice above, the researchers said.

"It is rewarding, in the sense that the work that I did was purely theoretical, and I think it's always a good thing when someone finds some evidence your theoretical work has some relation to reality", Clifford said. Now, researchers claim that they've discovered what might very well be a persistent Martian "lake" sitting just below the surface. "On Mars, that's much more hard, of course, because we can't really drill into the ice".

Whether microbial forms of life lie within is a matter of debate.

The water on Mars is likely to be significantly colder than in Antarctica.

The researchers said it could take years to verify whether something is actually living in this body of water that resembles a subglacial lake on Earth, perhaps with a future mission drilling through the ice to sample the water below. Brine lakes on Earth can remain liquid at 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study. And similar values on Earth are typically only generated by materials that are wet or liquid. Before joining the museum, Stofan was a member of the MARSIS science team. It took them two and a half years, though, from May 2012 to December 2015-to acquire 29 radar profiles. But the spacecraft's eccentric orbit oscillates between distances of 220 miles and 6,200 miles from the Martian topography, giving the team relatively brief periods of time to probe beneath the ice. This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water - albeit briny - is flowing today on the surface of Mars. The interface between ice and water acts similarly, producing a bright reflection. For example, a radar wave that travels through rock will reflect the penetrating pulses back to the antenna more quickly than those that travel through water.

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