Huge lake of salty water found buried deep in Mars

  • Huge lake of salty water found buried deep in Mars

Huge lake of salty water found buried deep in Mars

"This bacterial life have been able to survive without the regular energy sources that we know are necessary to metabolize life on the surface of Earth using sunlight for example".

The supposed lake was discovered using radar technology on the Mars Express spacecraft which relayed data between mid-2012 and late 2015.

Today, there's little doubt that Mars once had liquid water on its surface at some point in its history.

This salty water, together with the pressure of the overlying ice, could allow this body of water to remain liquid, according to the researchers.

Although the temperature is expected to be below the freezing point of pure water, they suggested that dissolved salts of magnesium, calcium, and sodium, known to be present in Martian rocks, could be dissolved in the water to form a brine. MARSIS sends electromagnetic pulses down to the planet and measures how they echo back - and Orosei and colleagues discovered especially bright reflections from a broad region spanning about 12 miles, about a mile below the ice.

Liquid water is a basic requirement for life on Earth, and Mars has such a thin atmosphere that living underground would be a great way for microbes to stay protected from radiation that's harmful to life. "But, if accomplished, it would be very exciting scientifically, and also very helpful for the utilization of resources available on other planets, which would aid any future human exploration to Mars and beyond".

"This took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water", said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency.

Mars's southern polar ice cap
Mars’s southern polar ice cap

"There's nothing special about this location other than the MARSIS radar on the Mars Express spacecraft is most sensitive to that region meaning there are likely similar water deposits below the ground all across Mars", said Duffy.

Scientists believe there could be a 20km-long lake siting under Mar's south polar ice cap.

The body of water appears similar to underground lakes found on Earth in Greenland and Antarctica.

For the past 12 years, a spacecraft-mounted radar called MARSIS has been sending radio waves down to Mars, which reflect back information about the make-up of the planet below.

Almost every craft that has visited the planet has hunted for liquid water; the Mars Express craft that detected water itself had been looking for over 12 years.

Water is usually a sign of life, in fact, it's one of the principles of astrobiology.

Several researchers said it would be crucial to figure out whether this body of water is the only one, or part of an interconnecting body of underground aquifers - in part because a network increases the possibility it could have harbored life. "Moreover, it provides a valuable confirmation that the water that once flowed abundantly over the Martian surface in the form of seas, lakes and rivers filled the voids in the subsurface". The weight of kilometres worth of ice above it could also be keeping the water in a liquid state, the researchers say. Although the team can not measure the thickness of the water layer, Orosei says it is much more than a thin film. This strong radar reflection was interpreted by the study's authors as liquid water - one of the most important ingredients for life in the Universe. "I see cells in it, but it's so briny that the cells-I can't get them to metabolize, " he said, referring to the chemical processes that all organisms undertake to survive. It therefore remains an open question whether the water is warm enough for life; perhaps Martian extremophiles are even more extreme than their cold weather terrestrial counterparts. Now, if this discovery pans out, it's clear that some large pockets of liquid water still exist on or near the Martian surface.