Steep Slopes on Mars Reveal Structure of Buried Ice

Steep Slopes on Mars Reveal Structure of Buried Ice

The scientists already knew that Mars had underground ice water, nearly completely clean.

Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have found eight sites where thick deposits of ice beneath Mars' surface are exposed in faces of eroding slopes.

"It's looking more encouraging that water ice could be available at depths shallow enough that could be used as resources for human missions to Mars", Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, told National Geographic.

A wider image of an ice scarp showing color-enhanced region.

"This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought", Colin Dundas, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told Science.

"On Mars, when you see something bright, it usually means ice", Richard Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement to Wired. An analysis of the scarps revealed that thick ice hides just below the surface.

Mars seems to be hiding a hoard of pristine frozen water just below the surface, a new paper reports.

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Researchers believe the ice formed relatively recently, because the sites appear smooth on the surface, unpocked by craters that would be formed by celestial debris smashing into the planet over time. They identified eight locations where erosion had exposed apparent glaciers, some of which extend 330 feet (100 meters) or more into the Red Planet's subsurface.

"What this study shows is that there is abundant water trapped just beneath the surface of Mars", said Professor Martin Van Kranendonk, director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology.

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.

In 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was launched to explore Mars.

If the ice deposits are capable of supporting human life, there is a good chance it could indicate whether alien life might exist below the surface of Mars as well. Such reserves could help researchers tease out the planet's history, and dramatically improve the feasibility of any potential colonies on Mars. The ice sheets are found 55 to 60 degrees north or south of the equator where temperatures can drop extremely low, making it hard for future astronauts to gain access to them.

The new study suggests that the ice built up over time, much the same way that Earth's glaciers and ice sheets came to be.

The researchers think the ice deposits started out as snow or frost that fell, was compacted and then recrystallized. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips. He says studying these ice sheets could give clues to Mars' past climate.

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