Mars has ice sheets 130 metres thick hiding below its red dust

12 Enero, 2018, 06:06 | Author: Enrique Watson
  • By the 2030s NASA hopes to send human explorers to Mars the surface of which is seen in a May 2017 handout

It's been a generally-agreed fact for years that Mars is hiding significant ice deposits.

"We've found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will be of interest to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history", said Colin Dundas, a researcher at the US Geological Survey and the lead author of a paper outlining the findings, published today in Science.

Although scientists have previously known of ice on Mars, the new discovery shows just how big the ice sheets can get, with some extending 300 feet below Mars's surface, the report said. Erosion revealed these icy blue spots, and they're still visible today.

But just how and when they formed remains unclear.

The new study not only suggests that underground water ice lies under a thin covering over wide areas, it also identifies eight sites where ice is directly accessible, at latitudes with less hostile conditions than at Mars' polar ice caps. In 2020, both the NASA Mars 2020 rover and the ExoMars rover will set out for the Red Planet in search of signs of ancient life.

These ice sheets have scientific value beyond just hydrating the first Martian settlers. The tilt of Mars' axis of rotation varies much more than Earth's, over rhythms of millions of years.

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The scientists say that the ice contains distinct layers, which could help to understand changes in the planet's climate over time. Humans would then drink the water or break it down into hydrogen and oxygen, which could then be used to make breathable air and methane for rocket fuel. When does ice accumulate?

The new data, collected in high-resolution three-dimensional images from two US satellites, reveal at least eight locations where massive shelves of water ice are deposited from just below the Martian surface as far deep as 100 meters, or roughly 330 feet, according to the report, which was published in the journal Science.

"It's looking more encouraging that water ice could be available at depths shallow enough that could be used as resources for human missions to Mars", says Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines.

And the erosion that's taking place is changing the Martian landscape. We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate.

"There's unquestionably some measure of tidy and flotsam and jetsam in it, and there can be little measures of salts or different things too, yet what we're seeing at the scarps are predominately ice", he includes.

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