Scientists find first persistent water source on Mars

The team that wrote the study, including lead author Professor Roberto Orosei, have ruled out any other causes for the brightness.

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.

The detection was made using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

To find the water, Italian researchers analysed radar signals collected over three years by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

Now, the ISA believes it's found a 20km wide underground lake of liquid water locked under thick ice near the planet's south pole.

Here and on Mars, these lakes stay liquid because dissolved salts, and pressure from above, lower the water's freezing point.

The reason for the reflections at these boundaries has to do with the electrical properties of the materials, and according to Stuurman, liquid water has radically different electrical properties than rock or ice.

Liquid water is considered as one of the necessary ingredients for life to emerge, and finding it on Mars is promising, but scientists have yet to find any evidence that the planet is or was habitable.

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The lake, similar to those beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth, lies about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) below the surface of a region called Planum Australe, close to the Martian south pole, and stretches out for 20 kilometres.

If other reservoirs are detected and a network of glacial lakes is uncovered - like on Earth - then it could indicate that water has persisted on Mars for millions of years, said Orosei. While previous research unearthed possible signs of "intermittent liquid water flowing" on Mars" surface, a new discovery has now braced the possibility of "extra-terrestrial life'.

Theoretically, this water could have allowed microbes that have evolved to thrive in saltier conditions a chance at existence, though Orosei believes any potential Martian life would have "not a very pleasant" experience.

"We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars".

Prof Orosei said: "It's a very promising place to look for life on Mars".

The tool is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS), and was created to find subsurface water by sending radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps.

Last week data were released revealing that there are organic molecules on Mars. But there hasn't been evidence of stable bodies of water until now, the researchers said.

Still, the more measurements scientists can collect, the more confident they can be.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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