Giant liquid water lake found under Martian ice

Giant liquid water lake found under Martian ice

Kenneth Drake
July 29, 2018

"I really have no other explanation", said study lead author Roberto Orosei of Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna.

The discovery was made by Italian scientists who were analysing images from the the Mars Express spacecraft - a European satellite.

Analysis of that data had already identified a highly reflective region beneath the thickest part of the southern ice cap in an area called the Planum Australe.

Researchers are still waiting to see if any more bodies of water are found on the Red planet or if this was a one-off discovery.

Dissolved salts are thought to keep the water fluid, despite having a temperature below freezing point.

Together with the pressure of the overlying ice, this lowers the melting point, allowing the lake to remain liquid, as happens on Earth, according to the study.

While it's always been known that the planet has substantial ice deposits, this is the first time scientists have detected a stable body of water in liquid form on the planet.

A few years ago, biologists found more than 3,500 unique gene sequences in Lake Vostok which had been isolated for more than 15 million years; Lake Vostok gets no sunlight with it being 4,000 metres below the ice and has a recorded temperature of -89.2c, showing life to be hardy.

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Australian experts have applauded the find, saying the discovery of liquid and frozen water resources is key due to their ability to produce fuel and provide life support for astronauts during deep space missions, allowing lower cost launches and space operations.

"The radar profile of this area is similar to that of lakes of liquid water found beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth, suggesting that there is a subglacial lake at this location on Mars", said the report.

If scientists want definitive proof that this sort of microbial life exists, it is likely that they'll need to drill deep beneath the ice in order to collect samples of the liquid water.

"We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars".

Speaking in a recorded interview released by Science, Prof Orosei revealed that his team spent years checking their results before being confident enough to announce the discovery.

However, Stillman, who was not involved in the research, said another spacecraft, or other instruments, need to be able to confirm the discovery.

The body of water is about 20 kilometres across and, if confirmed, would be the first evidence of permanent water on the Red Planet.

Rebecca Mickol, a former UA graduate student, and Tim Kral, a UA biological sciences professor, wrote about the possibility of certain types of microorganisms surviving and growing on Mars in studies published this year by the academic journal Planetary and Space Science.

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