Mars Express Just Discovered a Subsurface Liquid Water Lake on Mars

James Marshall
July 25, 2018

Until now, we knew that water exists in ice around the planet, as well as that there are signs of liquid water on the surface.

According to DailyMail report, the reservoir which spans 20km and is buried a mile (1.6km) underground, was discovered by scientists using radar to "probe" the Red Planet's south polar ice cap.

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

However, the planet's climate has since cooled due to its thin atmosphere, leaving most of its water locked up in ice.

The evidence comes from an instrument called MARSIS aboard the European Space Agency Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet. Planum Australe's highest point lies about 180 km from the South Pole.

Several researchers said it would be crucial to figure out whether this body of water is the only one, or part of an interconnecting body of underground aquifers - in part because a network increases the possibility it could have harbored life.

It wasn't able to work out how deep the lake might be, but scientists don't think it's more than one metre.

Evidence of water has been seen on Mars many times, but it is usually ancient, fleeting or frozen. "A lake, not some kind of meltwater filling some space between rock and ice, as happens in certain glaciers on Earth", Prof Orosei added.

MARSIS uses radar pulses that go deep into the surface of Mars.

"This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability", Titov said.

Beneath this, researchers spotted something unusual.

These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface". Although the team can not measure the thickness of the water layer, Orosei says it is much more than a thin film.

What does this mean for life?

"This took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water", said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency.

"We are not closer to actually detecting life", Dr Patel told BBC News, "but what this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars".

The water's temperature and chemistry could also pose a problem for any potential martian organisms.

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

This would make the water "pretty challenging for life" explained Dr Claire Cousins, an expert from the University of St Andrews. But they find the permittivity of the patch to be higher than anywhere else on Mars-and comparable to the subglacial lakes on Earth.

So instead, they tried to come up with as many other explanations for what they were seeing as possible. The readings they obtained between May 2012 and December 2015 mirrors data from subsurface liquid water under ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland here on Earth.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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