Scientists Have Found an Underground Lake on Mars
NEW YORK — July 26, 2018
Scientists have detected a massive underground lake on Mars, international astronomers said. The study published in the journal Science.
“If these researchers are right, this is the first time we’ve found evidence of a large water body on Mars,” said Cassie Stuurman, a geophysicist at the University of Texas who first found signs of an enormous Martian ice deposit in 2016.
Located under a layer of Martian ice, the lake is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) wide. It is the largest body of liquid water ever found on the Red Planet.
The discovery was made using a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, which launched in 2003.
The tool is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) and was designed to find subsurface water by sending radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps.
Scott Hubbard, a professor of astronautics at Stanford University who served as NASA’s first Mars program director in 2000, called the study “tremendously exciting”.
“Our mantra back then was ‘follow the water.’ That was the one phrase that captured everything,” Hubbard said. “So this discovery, if it stands, is just thrilling because it’s the culmination of that philosophy.”
"Water is there. We have no more doubt," co-author Enrico Flamini, the Italian space agency's Mars Express mission manager, said.
Mars is now cold, barren and dry but it used to be warm and wet. It was home to plenty of liquid water and lakes at least 3.6 billion years ago. The water might have been kept from freezing by dissolved salts.
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, and whether it might persist today.
"This is a stunning result that suggests water on Mars is not a temporary trickle like previous discoveries but a persistent body of water that provides the conditions for life for extended periods of time," said Alan Duffy, an associate professor at Swinburne University in Australia, who was not involved in the study.
Being able to access water sources could also help humans survive on a future crewed mission to Earth's neighboring planet, with NASA aiming to send explorers to the read planet in 2030.
Scientists suspect Mars may contain other hidden bodies of water, waiting to be discovered.
"There are likely similar water deposits below the ground all across Mars." Said David Stillman, a senior research scientist in the Department of Space Studies at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
Some experts are skeptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals.
The temperature is likely below the freezing point of pure water, but the lake can remain liquid due to the presence of magnesium, calcium, and sodium.
"This is a discovery of extraordinary significance, and is bound to heighten speculation about the presence of living organisms on the Red Planet," said Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.
"Caution needs to be exercised, however, as the concentration of salts needed to keep the water liquid could be fatal for any microbial life similar to Earth's," he added.