Mars Has Huge Belts of Frozen Water Glaciers

Tuesday, 07 April 2015 - 11:00AM
Astrobiology
Mars
Tuesday, 07 April 2015 - 11:00AM
Mars Has Huge Belts of Frozen Water Glaciers
Mars is known to possess polar ice caps composed of frozen carbon dioxide, but for the first time ever, scientists have discovered that the Red Planet's glacier belts are filled with frozen water.

The glaciers were detected long ago in satellite images of Mars, but up until now, it was unknown whether the glaciers were made of carbon dioxide or water. In this new study, the researchers not only determined that the ice is H2O, but also calculated that the glaciers amount to 150 billion cubic meters of ice, enough to cover the entire planet with a little over one meter of frozen water.

The glaciers are covered with a thick layer of dust, so they appear to be part of the surface, but the researchers used radar measurements in order to detect the frozen water. "We have looked at radar measurements spanning ten years back in time to see how thick the ice is and how it behaves," said co-author Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson. "A glacier is after all a big chunk of ice and it flows and gets a form that tells us something about how soft it is. We then compared this with how glaciers on Earth behave and from that we have been able to make models for the ice flow."

Mars Has Huge Belts of Frozen Water Glaciers
This image shows that a thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as the surface of the ground, but radar measurements show that there are glaciers composed of frozen water underneath the dust.

[Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin]



The researchers believe that it's possible the layer of dust has actually protected the ice from evaporation. Usually, water ice immediately evaporates on Mars due to the extremely low atmospheric pressure, but the glaciers are shielded from too much exposure to the dry atmosphere.

The discovery of water ice on Mars is a huge boon for astrobiologists, as the presence of water is the paramount condition for life as we know it. Flowing water is especially prized, but this discovery may still bring us one step closer to discovering habitable planets and extraterrestrial life.

Via Phys.org.
Science
Space
Astrobiology
Mars