Huge deposits of water have been discovered frozen beneath the surface of Mars which help to sustain future human outposts.
While scientists already knew that about a third of the surface of Mars contains shallow ground ice and that its poles harbor major ice deposits, the research published on Thursday described thick underground ice sheets exposed along slopes up to 100 metres tall at the planet’s middle latitudes.
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‘It was surprising to find ice exposed at the surface at these places. In the mid-latitudes, it’s normally covered by a blanket of dust or [loose bits of rocks called] regolith,’ said research geologist Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, who led the study.
The latitudes were the Mars equivalent on Earth of Scotland or the tip of South America.
The researchers used images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which has studied the Martian atmosphere and terrain since 2006, spotting what appeared to be water flows on or near the surface.
The findings showed that ice may be more available than previously known for use as water to support future robotic or human exploration missions, perhaps even the establishment of a permanent Mars base. The water could be used for drinking and potentially conversion into oxygen to breathe.
‘Humans need water wherever they go, and it’s very heavy to carry with you. Previous ideas for extracting human-usable water from Mars were to pull it from the very dry atmosphere or to break down water-containing rocks,’ said planetary scientist Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, a co-author of the study in the journal Science.
‘Here we have what we think is almost pure water ice buried just below the surface. You don’t see a high-tech solution,’ Byrne added.
‘You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need. I think it’s sort of a game-changer. It’s also much closer to places humans would probably land as opposed to the polar caps, which are very inhospitable.’
The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere.
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