Water on Mars: Scientists discover 12 MILE liquid lake on Red Planet

NASA  ESA  Hubble Heritage Team- STScI  AURA J. Bell- ASU M. Wolff- Space Science Institute via AP

A huge lake of liquid salty water has been found buried deep in Mars, raising the possibility of finding life on the red planet. Mars is famously rich in magnesium, calcium, and sodium which could have all dissolved into the water, forming a brine and dropping the freezing point of water much lower.

Before we get too excited about drilling 1.5km into the poles of Mars to look for ice, however, we'll probably want independent confirmation that this high-reflectivity region shows up consistently and behaves as if it's liquid water.

New findings from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter has been circling Mars since 2003. The footprints are color-coded corresponding to the "power" of the radar signal reflected from features below the surface.

The researchers, whose work is being published Wednesday in the journal Science, found the lake while studying a region called Planum Australe in the southern ice cap of Mars, researchers said.

The presence of liquid water at the base of the polar ice caps has always been suspected; after all, from studies on Earth, it is well known that the melting point of water decreases under the pressure of an overlying glacier. They also analysed the surrounding deposits and temperature of the environment, and believe the highly reflective body is actually a pool of liquid water saturated with salty sediments.

The Mars Express hasn't been alone in its quest.

There is liquid water on Mars.

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"Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form", Orosei said.

From May of 2012 through December of 2015 the Mars Express radar mapped an area near the south pole of Mars.

Orosei said the scientists checked other possible explanations, like carbon dioxide ice, for the bright reflections, but those did not match the radar observations.

Since humans could see through telescopes across space, Mars has been the favorite abode of imaginary life, the backyard just over the fence where astronomer Percival Lowell imagined he could see canals and even cities webbing the orange globe. Researchers are keenly interested in such reservoirs since they are reminiscent of subglacial lakes in Antarctica, which are teeming with microbial life.

"We discovered water on Mars, " said Roberto Orosei, a scientist at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics and the co-investigator on MARSIS, in a video about the discovery.

The next step is for space authorities to definitively confirm the body of water is there - and then the search for life begins.

However, while the find is tantalizing for astrobiologists eager to find alien life, it's also a bit of a tease.

MARSIS uses radar pulses that go deep into the surface of Mars. The rightmost white line is the surface radar echo, while the light blue spots along the basal radar echo highlight areas of very high reflectivity, interpreted as being caused by the presence of water.

"Even with those limitations, we've now found that there is likely to be liquid water in the Martian subsurface", Stamenkovic said.

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