Researchers Find Thick Sheets of Ice Hiding Under Martian Surface

Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars

Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars

"This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought", Dundas told the journal Science, which is also publishing a report he and several other colleagues co-authored on the discovery in Friday's issue. Under its reddish layer of dirt lie 300 ft. thick sheets of ice. The scientists who tend that instrument spotted patches of blue on the red planet, chose to look more closely and eventually found eight patches of ice.

A wider image of an ice scarp showing color-enhanced region.

The study authors propose that these ice sheets formed when thick snows blanketed Mars.

Erosion has exposed eight ice sites, some as shallow as a few feet (one meter) below the surface, and going as deep as 100 meters or more, researchers said.

These cliffs are "rare peeks into the subsurface of Mars, giving us access to an undisturbed slice through Mars' ice in the mid-latitudes - a fantastic find!" said Susan Conway, a planetary scientist at the University of Nantes in France who was not involved with this research. There's a thick cover of it on the planet's poles (which Elon Musk thinks we should nuke) and MRO's radar suite has picked up signatures of buried ice across Mars.

We've known for years that there is at least some water ice on Mars, but it's been hard to pin down where it is and how easy it would be to extract. Streaks on images of the surface of Mars, thought to be water, were past year revealed to be just drifts of sand.

Analyzing these features with a filter that accentuates colors, a team of researchers saw something notable for the Red Planet: a number of them had a distinctively blue color. 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.

According to the scientists led by Colin Dundas of the USGS' Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona, the eight Martian regions that have slopes as steep as 55 degrees, revealed further information about the internal layered structure of the underground ice sheets first discovered in the planet's middle latitude last 2016.

The exposed ice has scientific value apart from its potential resource value because it preserves evidence about long-term patterns in Mars' climate. The water could be used for drinking and potentially conversion into oxygen to breathe. In the future, if there will be crewed missions, those sheets could be easily accessible.

The sheets' proximity to the surface makes them accessible, in theory, to robot explorers.

If the ice deposits are capable of supporting human life, there is a good chance it could indicate whether alien life might exist below the surface of Mars as well. The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

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