NASA finds easy-to-access water all over Mars

Jonathan Hernandez
January 13, 2018

Now, Colin Dundas and colleagues have pinpointed eight locations, using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), where steep, pole-facing slopes created by erosion expose substantial quantities of sub-surface ice. They also may make frozen water more accessible than previously thought to future robotic or human exploration missions.

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. The ice could be a useful source of water for future missions to Mars.

There's a lot of mystery surrounding Mars, but scientists have recently made a groundbreaking discovery: ice.

'There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars'.

These visible ice sheets are likely just a small representative of the total water ice on Mars. Some of them begin just one to two meters below the Martian surface of the rocks and dust and reach a depth of at least 100 meters.

Although ice has always been known to exist on Mars, a better understanding of its depth and location could be vital to future human explorers, said the report in the USA journal Science.

NASA and other organizations hoping to send people to Mars want to harvest as many resources from the planet itself as possible in order to limit the amount of stuff they would need to send from Earth off to Mars.

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. It's an exciting discovery, giving researchers cross-sections of exposed Martian surface and, therefore, Mars history.

'Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface. Byrne joked that now it's enough for astronauts to go to Mars with just "a bucket and a shovel" and they'll have all the water they need. Such details suggest ice layers with different proportions of ice and dust that could have formed under varying climate conditions.

'It's part of the whole story of what happens to water on Mars over time: Where does it go?

In a study published today in the journal Science, researchers using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) investigated eight steep and eroded slopes (known as scarps) at various locations across Mars. "So it doesn't actually have to be liquid water in which life can exist, and it would be very interesting to look at where these ice scarps are melting", Professor George said. The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars' high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice. Terrestrial ice deposits are often mined to see what lies within, so perhaps one day we'll have the chance to sample Martian ice too.

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