Massive, deep deposits of ice found on Mars

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

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

NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth's Arctic Ocean.

"Below the surface of Mars, there is a substantial amount of ice deposits, however we don't have enough information on how clean, drinkable, or usable they are".

This is not the first time ice has been found on Mars.

"These shallow depths make the ice sheets potentially accessible to future exploration, and the (cliffs) present cross-sections of these ices that record past episodes of ice deposition on Mars". In reality, there's a lot more going on with Mars than most people realize. The Red Planet is always thought of in popular culture as being one step less habitable than Utah - dry, sandy desert in all directions, with nothing but rocks and the occasional cannonball to break up the scenery. Over the years, MRO has built up a comprehensive catalog of features on the Martian surface, many of them imaged from multiple angles. The slopes appear to be the product of erosion along the edges of a broad, smooth elevated plain.

The massive ice cliffs soar 100 metres high, but scientists with the US Geological Survey believe they could be just the beginning when it comes to what lies beneath the surface of the arid planet. A lack of craters indicates that some of that history could be quite recent.

Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars.

"This ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration", the study says. Thus, examining the layers could tell us about the history of how Mars' watery past came to a close.

The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice, capped by a layer one to two yards (or meters) thick of ice-cemented rock and dust.

However, once the buried ice becomes exposed to Mars" atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it "retreats, ' due to sublimation of the ice directly from solid form into water vapor. The researchers estimate that this is causing the loss of about a millimeter a year, which suggests that the ice sheets were once considerably larger than they are today.

Scientists have long theorised that reserves of water ice are locked underground on Mars. The planet obviously has polar ice caps, wet streaks have been spotted in other cliffsides, and the MRO has previously detected signs of buried ice across the planet.

But before you start packing your bags and preparing for your new life as a Martian, there's one major problem: All eight sites that are suspected of having clean water ice are located about 55 degrees north or south of Mars' equator, where temperatures are incredibly low. In any case, this new research, distributed today in the diary Science, uncovers key data about the ice's layering, thickness and virtue.

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