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Giant Liquid Water 'Lake' Discovered On Mars

Giant Liquid Water 'Lake' Discovered On Mars

A screengrab from animation of the Martian poles with ice caps. The only way we can put life on the planet in the future is to ensure without a doubt that there had been no life on it in the past.

Lake beds like those explored by Nasa's Curiosity rover show water was present on the surface of Mars in the past.

All of that water is either locked up in solid form, however, or locked away in the distant past. This was taken up by Percival Lowell, who used the idea of canals to promote the idea in his book Mars and its Canals(1906) that there was a vast and lush ecosystem on Mars, complete with life intelligent enough to make planet-spanning canals to take water from the poles to irrigate canals.

"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", says Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science today. The study area is highlighted using a THEMIS IR image mosaic.

Bramson said better understanding of the water ice layers and sequestered carbon dioxide in the south polar cap of Mars, which affect radar signals, could help clarify what lies below the surface. USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State University, ESA, INAF.

Between March 2012 and December 2015, the researchers got 29 sets of radar readings from Mars's Planum Australe, the southern polar plain.

The body of water is about 12.5 miles across and sequestered beneath almost a mile of ice at the south pole.

"All the technology to drill through this ice to the lake doesn't exist yet so it will probably take at least another 25 years before we will be examining this".

Salts in the lake are believed to have kept the water - which has a temperature as low as -68C (-90F) - from freezing over.

The proposed "lake" sits beneath the planet's south polar ice cap, and is about 20km (12 miles) across. An underground lake was found near here. "This is something that is to us the tell tale sign of the presence of water", Prof Orosei said.

So the researchers did a rough calibration by registering the signal that bounced back when the radar hit the atmosphere/dusty ice boundary at the Martian surface, since the composition of these materials is pretty well understood.

"It sticks out like a sore thumb in the radar data", she said. The brightest reflections are centered around 193 degrees E/81 degrees S in the intersecting orbits, outlining a well-defined, 20 km-wide zone. The radar cross section has been tilted 90°. The blue triangle indicates an area of very high reflectivity, interpreted as being caused by the presence of a reservoir of water, about a mile below the surface. It was the first-ever radar sounder brought to another planet, but the team was unable to determine if it detected water on Mars until now. With the stunning findings, that debate is likely to be put to bed.

The question would be, Orosei added, whether any life forms that could have evolved long ago on Mars have found a way to survive until now. Researchers have also likened the discovery to Antarctica's Lake Vostok. "This is certainly not a very pleasant environment for life ..."

According to early hypotheses, however, the lake is most likely too cold and salty to sustain any sort of life. It is about 20 km across, say the researchers in a release.

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