Scientists found water ice on Mars

Mars captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.                  Space Telescope Science Institute

We know there's water on this planet (particularly at the poles), and radio scans by MRO have hinted at thick, buried ice located along the planet's middle latitudes.

Researchers are presently discussing the profitable data they may learn by penetrating a center out of one of these stores and taking it back to Earth. The 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) spacecraft launched in 2005 to broaden our understanding of Earth's celestial neighbor, looks like a big, winged insect, and has a wide range of imaging and sensor equipment aboard.

The underground ice has gradually been exposed by erosion, with researchers detecting it at depths ranging from two to more than 100 metres below the Martian surface. The space agency says the MRO found a total of eight locations where these thick ice layers are exposed, all of them on eroding slope faces. Some of them start as close as one meter below the planet's surface.

The new study was published online today (Jan. 11) in the journal Science.

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Dundas and his colleagues used NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - a satellite that has circled Mars since 2006 providing scientists with a steady stream of photographs of the planet's surface. Fours years later, scientists presented evidence that the streaks were caused by hydrated minerals that flowed down the slopes in the Martian warm seasons.

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It isn't news that there's ice on Mars. The sheer size of the ice sheets could help scientists better understand the history of Mars and its climate, NASA said. The tilt of Mars' axis of rotation varies much more than Earth's, over rhythms of millions of years.

According to the research paper, "The ice exposed by the scarps likely originated as snow that transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 [meters] of dry and ice-cemented dust or regolith near ±55° latitude".

"There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars", said the study's lead author, Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. More research needs to be done, but the ice sheets could act as a record of the climate history of Mars.

"The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice", said Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, a co-author on today's report.

Scientists now have their work cut out for them. Not having readily accessible water on Mars would be a real headache, and something that could delay or slow down exploration and migration efforts, and possibly force astronauts to the poles, where ice is more readily available at the surface. Encouragingly, she says the spectral results mean the water is "pretty darn clean" in terms of direct content, which is great news for prospective Martian colonists.

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