An international team of researchers has found new evidence for the possible existence of water in liquid form under the south polar ‘ice cap’ of Mars. The results, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, provide the first independent indication of evidence using data other than radar that there is liquid water beneath Mars’ south pole. Researchers led by the University of Cambridge, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, used spacecraft laser-altimeter measurements of the shape of the upper surface of the ‘ice cap’ to identify subtle patterns in its height.
They then showed that these patterns matched predictions from computer models of how a body of water below the ‘ice cap’ would affect the surface. Their results are consistent with earlier ice-penetrating radar measurements, which were originally interpreted to show the potential area of water in liquid form beneath the ice. It is a matter of debate, and some studies have suggested that the radar signal is not due to the liquid form of water.
Study co-author Francis Butcher of the University of Sheffield said, “This study provides the best indication yet that there is liquid water on Mars today because it means that the two glacial lakes we used to search for on Earth have Will look for important evidence, they have now been found on Mars.” Butcher said, “Water in liquid form is a vital ingredient for life, although it does not necessarily mean that life exists on Mars.” The researchers noted that in order to be liquid at such cold temperatures, it is necessary that the water below the South Pole is actually salty. However, it would be difficult for any microbial life to flourish in such salty water.
Significantly, like Earth, both poles of Mars have thick water ice, which is equal to the combined volume of the Greenland ice sheet. In contrast, the polar ‘ice cap’ on Mars was until now believed to have solid ice up to its surface due to the cold climate. Professor Neil Arnold, from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, who led the research, said: “The combination of new topographic evidence, results from our computer models, and radar data make it more likely that there is at least one planet on Mars today. The subglacial water in the region exists in a liquid state and that Mars must still be geothermally active to keep the water below the ‘ice cap’ liquid.”
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