Martian ice could sustain human outposts

Martian ice could sustain human outposts

While scientists already knew that about a third of the surface of Mars contains shallow ground ice and that its poles harbour major ice deposits, the research published on Thursday described thick underground ice sheets exposed along slopes up to 100 yards (meters) tall at the planet's middle latitudes. New data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicates there could be a lot of it in giant sheets that run for hundreds of meters hiding just below the surface.

While scientists have observed water ice on the surface of the Red Planet many times before, researchers rarely get a chance to learn this much about its layering, thickness, purity, and prevalence.

Do you believe that the discovery of ice on Mars increases potential habitability?

"This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought", Dundas told the journal Science, which is also publishing a report he and several other colleagues co-authored on the discovery in Friday's issue.

This is not the first time ice has been found on Mars.

These visible ice sheets are likely just a small representative of the total water ice on Mars. Water ice can be used, of course, for life support as well as for making fuels for surface and space vehicles. "A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground", explains NASA on their website.

MRO brought us even more evidence of ice on Mars in the past: pools of (what appears to be) pure ice, puddled on the floors of fresh meteorite craters.

Ice cliffs spotted on Mars

"Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface". The scientists think the deposits are pretty pure water ice - a boon for future exploratory missions.

In a new paper, researchers argue these findings suggest there are vast stores of underground ice tantalizingly close to the surface, even at low martial latitudes (i.e. closer to the equator). These ice sheets were found below large slopes, and the interesting thing is that these ice sheets are made up of relatively clean water. It has a variety of instruments that can probe the chemical composition and subsurface structure of Mars, along with the best camera we've ever sent to another planet.

Thick bands of ice (blue) spotted in Martian cliff faces.

As the ice deposits are covered by just a few feet of Martian dirt, this could possibly allow future astronomers who travel to Mars to access those ice sheets.

The ice probably started as snowfall that compacted into massive fractured layers.

In addition to helping humans visit Mars, the ice could also tell us tales about the past Martian climate if we were able to drill a core from one of the hidden glaciers and study it. The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

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