Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

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

Game Changer’ Scientists Say Liquid Water Found on Mars			AFP		25 Jul 2018 Game Changer’ Scientists Say Liquid Water Found on Mars AFP 25 Jul 2018
Doris Mccormick | 26 July, 2018, 15:45

The ice on Mars would also shield the Martian lake from the damaging radiation that bombards the planet's surface.

Scientists using ground-penetrating radar found a 12-mile (about 20km) wide lake about a mile beneath the southern ice cap.

NASA is planning to launch a new rover as early as July 2020 with a mission to comprehensively determine whether life ever arose on Mars, while characterising the climate and geology of the red planet and preparing for human exploration.

But the climate has changed significantly over the course of the planet's 4.6 billion year history and liquid water can not exist on the surface today, so scientists are looking underground. Analysis of that data had already identified a highly reflective region beneath the thickest part of the southern ice cap in an area called the Planum Australe. It took them two and a half years, though, from May 2012 to December 2015-to acquire 29 radar profiles.

Italian researchers using radar to probe the planet's polar ice caps have detected a lake of liquid water under the Martian ice, stretching 20 kilometers across, according to the study.

Jonathan Lunine, director of the Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University, who was not involved with the research, said the finding transforms Mars from a dusty planet to yet another "ocean world" in the solar system. "The big, big finding would be water at depth outside the polar cap". Despite the lake's freezing temperature (-68 degree Celsius), scientists believe the water is kept in liquid form as a 'salty brine (termed as sludge),' as per the report. Because water is essential to life, the discovery offers an exciting new place to search for life-forms beyond Earth. For those sadly and annoyingly not up on Mars-related happenings, this is notable in that it potentially marks the first time such a body of liquid water has been seen.

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That life, however, would have to contend with another key factor making its aquatic environs possible: mineral salts that leach out of rocks and sediments to act as antifreeze.

To find the water, Italian researchers analysed radar signals collected over three years by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft. Scientists working on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is equipped with a similar radar instrument called SHARAD, say that they simply do not get any readings for subsurface liquid in the region at all. Researchers are keenly interested in such reservoirs since they are reminiscent of subglacial lakes in Antarctica, which are teeming with microbial life.

Scientists have also traveled deep underground into mines and found microorganisms related to ancient species that once lived in watery environments much closer to the surface.

Being able to access water sources could help humans survive on a future crewed mission to Earth's neighbouring planet. Certain areas had "a greater intensity (bright reflections) than the surrounding areas and the surface", intimating at the existence of liquid.

For example, they considered that there could be a carbon dioxide or water ice layer within the zone that could affect the reflections, but this was rejected "because of the very specific and unlikely physical conditions required, or because they do not cause sufficiently strong basal reflections", the researchers wrote Science paper stated.

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