First firm evidence for liquid water on Mars

Scientists Detect Liquid Lake on Mars

Between May 2012 and December 2015, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (or "MARSIS" for short) surveyed the region of Mars known as the Planum Australe, a 200-kilometer area on the planet's southern polar plain, which is composed of water ice, Carbon dioxide ice, and admixed dust.

Roberto Orosei, a co-investigator on the radar instrument and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science, said the scientists could not measure the thickness of the lake, but that it had to be at least a yard or so thick for the radar pulses to bounce back.

"Whether similar scenarios are occurring on Mars remain to be experimentally established, but this finding of potential liquid water beneath the surface of Mars opens up fascinating areas of space exploration". It is believed the planet once was home to rivers and lakes before the climate significantly changed over the course of its 4.6-billion-year history. Further evaluation of the bright feature indicated an interface between the ice and a stable body of liquid water.

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

"There's nothing special about this location other than the MARSIS radar on the Mars Express spacecraft is most sensitive to that region meaning there are likely similar water deposits below the ground all across Mars", said Duffy.

John Priscu, a microbiologist at Montana State University, thinks that liquid water is the missing ingredient for life on Mars. Orosei suspects that salts, especially the perchlorates that have been found in the planet's soils, could be lowering the ice's melting point. It's over 12 miles wide and is the first of its kind to be discovered on Mars, which had previously been thought to only contain ice.

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Planetary scientists have been embarked on a quest to find liquid water on the red planet, because life as we know it can not survive without water to act as a solvent in its biochemistry. We've known for good while that it should be there-"No doubt there is water on Mars", NASA wrote in 1967-we just needed to answer the very big questions of how much there was, what form it took, and where it could be found.

The lake was discovered on the south polar ice cap of Mars and is covered in a sheet of ice, the thickness of which is yet to be determined.

This discovery pushes Mars to the very top of the list of targets to look for life, says Coates.

The team from Italy studied radio echo sounding data recorded between 2012 and 2015 by the Mars Express spacecraft. That's because it's well below the freezing point of water; the only thing stopping it from turning to ice is a mix of toxic salts. 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.

This image provided by the ESA/INAF shows an artist's rendering of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars. MARSIS's wavelength is over 300 feet and can penetrate deeper, whereas SHARAD's is 50 feet and scours closer to the surface.

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