For a long time scientists have been debating on whether the Red Planet is suitable for life. However, a new discovery regarding liquid water on Mars could change our understanding and exploration of alien life. Scientists believe that they discovered a liquid lake sitting under Mars’ southern polar ice cap, and is being described as a “well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone.”
Researchers described this breakthrough discovery in a study published in the journal Science, while the discovery was likely made by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS). This tool is located on the Mars Express spacecraft.
MARSIS was testing Mars’ Planum Australe region from May 2012 to December 2015, using radar pulses for its testing by sending it through the surface of the polar ice caps. Afterwards, it would measure the way radio waves would return to it. Aside from finding the “well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone” (20km being 12.5 miles) it was also discovered that the radar reflected the brightness of the liquid water. In the study it was noted that it is surrounded by “much less reflective areas,” which indicates that this, in reality, is water.
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The team behind the study, led by Professor Roberto Orosei have concluded that nothing else other than liquid water could be the cause for this brightness. In an interview with BBC, Orosei said that it’s most likely not a large lake, adding that the water doesn’t come from some glacier or something else.
“This really qualifies this as a body of water. A lake, not some kind of meltwater filling some space between rock and ice, as happens in certain glaciers on Earth,” Orosei told BBC.
Gathering a lot of attention
After the news of liquid water on Mars emerged, various users of different social media were quite enthused, wondering whether this discovery changes the way scientists search for extraterrestrial life, especially on the Red Planet.
Friends, this is not your yearly “we found water on Mars” type of announcement. This is actually very, very cool.
If verified, this is an underground lake of salty, liquid water where life really might have a chance of existing. It’s big!!
— Miriam Kramer (@mirikramer) July 25, 2018
The researchers also said that different scientists theorized the presence of liquid water beneath the Martial polar ice caps more than 30 years ago. However, it has only been “inconclusively debated ever since.” Now that the discovery has finally been confirmed, the theorizing and debates can finally be put to rest.
According to the scientists, the water is most likely below the freezing point for water temperature, being 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) given that the liquid lake is located under the ice cap. Nevertheless, the presence of different minerals like magnesium, calcium and sodium perchlorate in the soil of the northern parts of Mars “support the presence of liquid water at the base of the polar deposits.”
“This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered,” Orosei said in a statement on the European Space Agency’s website.
Helps understand evolution of Mars
Even so, the announcement on Wednesday raised a lot of questions regarding liquid water on Mars, which Dmitri Titov, Mars Express project scientist of ESA named as a “much-awaited result.”
“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.
Whether the discovery of this liquid lake changes the way scientists will look for extraterrestrial life in the future or not, we’ll have to see in the future studies and discoveries.