Huge Underground Lake Of Liquid Salt Water Discovered Buried On Mars' South Pole – Here's Everything You Need To Know

Wednesday, 25 July 2018 - 1:17PM
Mars
ESA
Alien Life
Wednesday, 25 July 2018 - 1:17PM
Huge Underground Lake Of Liquid Salt Water Discovered Buried On Mars' South Pole – Here's Everything You Need To Know
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
A team of astronomers working in Italy has reported a brimming lake of liquid salt water on Mars. The study broke just this morning when it was published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Science. If and when this is confirmed (because scientists are always cautious – gravity is technically a theory, after all) it could be one of the biggest scientific discoveries in our lifetime.

We already know that water existed on Mars – billions of years ago the Red Planet was covered in Venetian networks of oceans and rivers, a brilliant red-and-blue marble in orbit. It's theorized that violent dust storms churning across the planet stripped water from the surface into the upper atmosphere, where it dissipated into outer space.



This groundbreaking new data comes from the European Space Agency Mars Express mission, which has patiently orbited Mars for the past fifteen years. Sitting shotgun is the MARSIS instrument, which broadcasts radio frequencies down onto the planet and reports the wavelengths that return.

Water reflects these radio waves with exceptional brightness. The first flash appeared near the Martian south pole in 2008. "We knew that there was something there," says Elena Pettinelli of Roma Tre University, who co-authored the study. "And we were stubborn enough to do the data analysis."

It took years of sifting through radio imagery with painstaking skepticism to rule out possibilities of buried carbon dioxide ice (that's "dry ice" to you) or wet sediment. But when the team compared the reflections to similar data collected from Earth, they became convinced their discovery was real.

And they're confident more exist. "There's no reason to say this is the only one," Pettinelli points out.

The lake is buried about a mile underground and roughly the width of Lake Tahoe. A high salt concentration enables this water to stay liquid despite freezing-cold Martian temperatures. It's comparable to similar subglacial lakes on Earth… Which have also proven hospitable to life.

According to Nathalie Cabrol at the SETI Institute, "What you see here is potentially the presence of water, of shelter ... and if there were recent volcanoes in the polar regions, then this is definitely a place that would become a high habitability and life target."

Almost as exciting as the promise of alien life on Mars, however, is what the presence of lakes would mean for future manned missions to Mars.

Historically speaking, every major civilization starts next to a body of water.
Science
Space
Mars
ESA
Alien Life
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