Researchers recently confirmed the presence of a large lake beneath a thick layer of ice at Mars’s south pole. The study confirms the findings reported by astronomers two years ago and detected three new underground lakes in the same area. Published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the study analyzed 134 radar data sets from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, collected between 2012-2019.
Researchers believe there could be many more such lakes beneath the Martian surface. The method to detect lakes beneath the Martian surface is similar to finding subglacial lakes on Earth. When a radio wave is sent to the red planet’s surface, the wave is reflected depending on the material composition. A high reflectivity suggests large water bodies of water trapped beneath the surface.
The largest lake the researchers found is about 19 miles across and surrounded by many smaller ponds. Despite the frigid Martian temperatures, these lakes remain liquid, suggesting the water to be saline.
According to the research team, “The possibility of extended hypersaline water bodies on Mars is particularly exciting because of the potential for the existence of microbial life. Future missions to Mars should target this region to acquire experimental data in relation to the basal hydrologic system, its chemistry, and traces of astrobiological activity.”
John Priscu, an environmental scientist at Montana State University in Bozeman, whose group studies microbiology in icy environments, told Nature that there is not much life in Antarctica’s salty pools, suggesting a similar situation in Mars lakes.
The study indicates the possibility of a much larger network of ancient underground lakes on Mars. These could be millions or even billions of years old when Mars was warmer and wetter like Earth.
According to co-author Elena Pettinelli, a planetary scientist at the University of Rome, “There may have been a lot of water on Mars, and if there was water, there was the possibility of life.”
Due to the lack of atmosphere, water cannot remain stable on Mars’ surface. The presence of liquid water means there is potential for life on the red planet. Researchers can examine how life may survive these extreme environments. However, there is one problem; these subglacial lakes are incredibly challenging to reach as they are buried a mile beneath a layer of ice.
The data did not convince everyone. “If the bright material really is liquid water, I think it’s more likely to represent some sort of slush or sludge,” Mike Sori, a planetary geophysicist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, told Nature.
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Source: CBS News