Thursday, 18 January, 2018

Thick Sheets of Water Ice Found Buried Under Mars's Surface

1_11_Mars surface Ice cliffs spotted on Mars
Elias Hubbard | 13 January, 2018, 01:05

Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent.

This high-resolution NASA HiRISE image shows a detailed subsection of an icy scarp on Mars in enhanced color. The ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration. Mars even has polar ice caps.

"This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought", Colin Dundas, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told Science.

The ice Dundas and colleagues pinpointed doesn't appear to be small veins of frozen water or tiny deposits of frozen molecules squeezed into the pores of Martian soil.

While the existence of water ice underneath the surface of Mars increases the possibility of colonizing the planet someday, it still doesn't guarantee anything. The sites of exposed ice are located on steep slopes, or "scarps", in Mars' midlatitudes. "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. We investigated eight of these locations and found that they expose deposits of water ice that can be 100 meters thick, extending downward from depths as shallow as 1 to 2 meters below the surface.

The ice contains bands and color variations that suggest it was formed layer by layer, perhaps as snow accumulated over time, leading to ice sheets.

In other words, the prospect of a number of glaciers of pure ice just below the surface of Mars is a big deal because they could function as both wells and fueling stations for future human activity. The new ice-scarp studies confirm indications from fresh-crater and neutron-spectrometer observations that a layer rich in water ice begins within just one or two yards of the surface in some areas.

A radar instrument on the MRO previously detected signatures of thick, buried ice across the planet's belly, however, this latest study indicates a greater prevalence of Martian ice. The ice sheets are found 55 to 60 degrees north or south of the equator where temperatures can drop extremely low, making it hard for future astronauts to gain access to them. Over the years, MRO has built up a comprehensive catalog of features on the Martian surface, many of them imaged from multiple angles.

If you look at a photo of Mars, you'll mostly see red.

Planetary scientists around the world are finding hope in that this could, in fact, be the clue to pure ice. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips.

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