A lake of actual water has been discovered on Mars

A lake of actual water has been discovered on Mars

A lake of actual water has been discovered on Mars

Scientists are eager to find signs of contemporary water, because such discoveries are key to unlocking the mystery of whether life ever formed on Mars in its ancient past, or if it might persist today.

The team gathered data using a sophisticated radar sensor known as MARSIS aboard the Mars Express spacecraft.

Scientists Roberto Orosei (L), Elena Pettinelli (C) and Enrico Flamini pose near a replica of the Cosmo Sky Med satellite before a news conference where they announce after first-time detection of liquid water on Mars by italian radar Italian radar MARSIS, on board the ESA's Mars at the Italian Space Agency headquarter in Rome, Italy July 25, 2018.

In the case of this subsurface lake of water on Mars, the researchers say that it is likely stays liquid partly due to magnesium, calcium and sodium salts, which are common in Mars rocks.

There is no reason to conclude that the presence of subsurface water on Mars is limited to a single location.
Conveniently, there's another radar instrument called SHARAD orbiting the Red Planet on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars, superimposed to a color mosaic of a portion of Planum Australe. Researchers are keenly interested in such reservoirs since they are reminiscent of subglacial lakes in Antarctica, which are teeming with microbial life.

There is already speculation about the presence of these "extremophiles" in the salty subsurface oceans discovered inside some of the icy moons in our solar system.

"This is the first body of water it has detected, so it is very exciting", David Stillman, a senior research scientist in the Department of Space Studies at Southwest Research Institute in Texas, told AFP in an email.

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To be clear, there's no sign of any actual Martian microbes swimming around, and the environment is not obviously hospitable - the water at the base of the polar cap is estimated to be minus-90 degrees F, far below the typical freezing point of water.

Water is thought to have flowed across the surface of Mars billions of years ago, when its atmosphere was thicker and warmer, cutting gullies and channels that are still visible.

A NASA image of Mars.

"Those are not ideal conditions for life to form", Siebach said.

Between 2012 and 2015, the team obtained 29 radar samples and used them to map the subsurface almost one mile deep in the area and about a dozen miles wide.

"Water is considered one of the fundamental requirements for life".

Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in an email that the interpretation that it is liquid water is "certainly plausible, but it's not quite a slam dunk yet". And in recent years, scientists actually drilled deep beneath the Antarctic ice into one of these, the subglacial Lake Whillans, which had been cut off from the surface for millions of years.

"It will open up a very interesting area of science on Mars", he said. But he says researchers will want to look for other lakes under the ice and find out whether they are connected-and whether they point to an even deeper water table.

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