Mars isn't dead: Scientists find large body of water under ice cap

Morning Talk 26/07/2018

Researchers at the Italian Space Agency have published a new report detailing a body of water detected on Mars.

The body of water sits beneath the planet’s south polar ice cap, approximately 20km-wide.

Radar profiles collected between May 2012 and December 2015 show evidence of liquid water trapped below the ice of the South Polar Layered Deposits, the report says.

Professor Kathy Campbell, geologist and astrobiologist at Auckland University’s School of Environment, says the findings, announced overnight New Zealand time, show Mars is another place to look for life in our solar system.

“We knew there was lots of liquid water in the past, but [Mars] kind of died down a little bit, so now they’ve got liquid water in the South Pole, under a bunch of ice,” she told RadioLIVE’s Mark Sainsbury.

“So Mars isn’t dead - it’s got liquid water on it.”

Evidence of water on Mars is not new, however. There have long been available images of dried river and lake beds, but as the climate on the planet has since cooled to levels below Earth's polar climates the discovery of a stable, liquid body of water is significant.

This new report, published in the journal Science, reads: “Anomalously bright subsurface reflections are evident within a well-defined, 20 kilometre wide zone which is surrounded by much less reflective areas.

“Quantitative analysis of the radar signals shows that this bright feature has high relative dielectric permittivity matching that of water-bearing signals.

“We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars.”

Researchers were unable to conclude the depth of the lake, but estimate it to be a minimum of one metre.

But Prof Campbell says Mars isn’t the only place we need to be looking for life in the solar system.

“People want to go to Enceladus and Europa, these are moons of Saturn and Jupiter, they want to go and look at these jets of frozen water that are streaming out into space. There are a lot of crazy things going on in the solar system."

Listen to the full interview with Professor Kathy Campbell above.

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