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Martian Ice Newly Detected, Could Supply Water for Human Outposts

13 January, 2018, 01:00 | Author: Glenda Knight
  • By the 2030s NASA hopes to send human explorers to Mars the surface of which is seen in a May 2017 handout

New data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicates there could be a lot of it in giant sheets that run for hundreds of meters hiding just below the surface.

Some of that ice is sticking out above the surface where it's combined with rocks and dust, making the ice a prime target for future lander missions. They could also make for accessible sites to extract water for human use, although that would obviously conflict with studying the ice's layers for clues to the past.

The researchers of the latest study said that newly found ice sheets have distinct layers that could throw considerable light on the climate history of Mars. The scientists who tend that instrument spotted patches of blue on the red planet, made a decision to look more closely and eventually found eight patches of ice.

"Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface".

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbors subsurface water ice.

'What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before'. "A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground", explains NASA on their website.

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'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.

This high-resolution NASA HiRISE image shows a detailed subsection of an icy scarp on Mars in enhanced color.

These underground cliffs appear 'to be almost pure ice, ' say the researchers, who analysed data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005. Those cliffs formed through a process called sublimation, in which exposed ice turned directly into water vapour.

"Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need", says Byrne. The study examined north and south pole-facing erosional slopes, known as scarps, in eight locations around Mars, all in the mid-latitudes. And the ice is buried by just a few feet of Martian dirt in places, meaning it might be accessible to future crewed missions.

"If we were to send humans to live on Mars for a substantial period of time, it would be a fantastic source of water", Balme said. "So it doesn't actually have to be liquid water in which life can exist, and it would be very interesting to look at where these ice scarps are melting", Professor George said.

According to the research paper, "The ice exposed by the scarps likely originated as snow that transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 [meters] of dry and ice-cemented dust or regolith near ±55° latitude". We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate.

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