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Fast Facts on the Gigantic Ice Sheet Discovered on Mars

Nov 28, 2016 05:06 AM EST
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It has long been debated if water did exist on Mars but the question now is whether or not liquid water still flows on the red planet. But in an astonishing discovery, scientists discovered a gigantic ice sheet buried underneath the surface of the red planet.

The discovery of the gigantic ice sheet caught the interest of the scientific community. The amount of potential liquid from the ice sheet amounts to as much water as Earth's Lake Superior and bigger than New Mexico.

The gigantic ice sheet was discovered about 3 to 33 feet below the ground. The ice deposits could be a good source of water in the future. The study was published in the Geophysical Research Letters, according to Earthsky.org.

"This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low altitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice," Jack Holt, study co-author from the University of Texas at Austin said in a statement.

The study aims to analyze the Utopia Planitia region on Mars using ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD). SHARAD is aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The landscapes of the region appeared to be similar to the Canadian Arctic where ice is also buried. And based on the observation, the researchers found out that a gigantic ice sheet was indeed buried in the region.

"This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet's axis was more tilted than it is today," said Cassie Stuurman, lead author of the study from the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, Austin said in a statement.

Based on the study, the layer discovered was about 260 feet to 560 feet comprised of up to 85 percent water ice. This means it holds much potential water content if melted. NASA's MRO and its scientific payload can analyze layers and layers of Martian soil including those composed of liquid and frozen water.

SHARAD, specifically, is capable of telling the difference between the solid and liquid state of water. Based on the data gathered by SHARAD, it appears that all water in on Mars is currently in a solid state as ice.

Water is integral to find signs of life. Although there is no evidence of life on Mars yet, having frozen liquid gives scientists a ray of hope from the ice sheet that could once have been in the liquid state.

 

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