NASA Spots a 'Treasure Map' of Water Ice on Mars for Future Manned Missions – And It's Just an Inch Below the Surface
NASA scientists have published a "treasure map" of water ice on Mars – and some of it lies just an inch below the surface, according to reports from CNN.
"You wouldn't need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel," said Sylvain Piqueux, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was an author on this study. "We're continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land."
Yes, land: this research was completed with an eye to establishing a human presence on Mars. Hearkening back to our earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, the criteria for establishing settlements on the Red Planet are humbling in their similarities. Chiefly: humankind must settle near an abundant and accessible clean water source.
Locating this ice is part of the effort to establish that cornerstone for a long-term human presence on the planet. NASA's official term for it is "in situ resource utilization," which means using whatever resources available in the Martian environment to help establish a base: things like available sunlight, raw materials – and water.
NASA scientists used data from the Phoenix lander – which revealed water ice on Mars' south pole – and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which returned images of water ice located in meteor impact sites and used that information to triangulate where to search for water.
Then, researchers looked at data from the Reconnaissance Orbiter's Climate Sounder and a separate Thermal Emission Imaging System. These are both heat-sensitive instruments, and the reason scientists use heat-sensitive instruments to look for ice is because it changes the planet's surface temperature.
They found a great deal of water ice on Mars, and a few key areas that were especially shallow – just an inch below the surface. The next step is to study this ice over an extended period of time to see how it increases or decreases according to the seasons on Mars.
A study has just been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.