Scientists are elated at the fresh discovery.
We have been poking, prodding, recording, and scratching our heads as we’ve searched the massive Red planet for signs of the life-giving elixir for decades to no real avail, until now.
While we’ve found evidence of minuscule amounts of water on Mars before, as surface dribble or permafrost ice, such findings harshly pale in comparison to the astounding new revelation.
Dr. Roberto Orosei of the Roman National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), who led a team of the institute’s researchers on the hunt for water, detailed the importance of the discovery in the renowned journal Science.
Launched in June of 2003, and entering into orbit in December of the same year, the spacecraft has already been deemed a success for the plethora of planetary information it has gathered over the last 15 years.
Quantified discoveries aside, this is its biggest revelation of the mission to date.
By biggest, we mean the most massive, as the monumental underground reservoir near Mars’ South Pole stretches nearly a whopping 12 miles wide and rests just 0.9 miles beneath the surface.
In an interview with IFLScience, Dr. Orosei notes that the similarities found in this discovery, compared to Earth’s own underground reservoirs, suggests life could be possible on the dusty globe.
“This is potentially the first habitat we know of on Mars. It’s the first place where microorganisms like those that exist today on Earth could survive.”
Although the subterranean lake is massive in width, scientists aren’t sure how deep the lake is based on the data collected.
The evidence of liquid water was detected using Marsis, just one of seven instruments used on the Mars Express to gather information about the planet.
Short for Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding, Marsis sends out radar signals capable of piercing the Martian soil to a depth of up to 5 km using frequencies between 1.5 to 5 MHz.
The reflections echoing back to the instrument indicate the geophysical characteristics that make up the area.
It is the strength of this particular reflection found in the Planum Australe region of Mars that have scientists confirming a large mass of liquid water lies beneath its surface.
This evidence was revealed using a sequence of 29 subterranean-reaching pulses that reflected back a radar signal that looked almost exactly like subglacial lakes found here on Earth, specifically those in Antarctica and Greenland.
While the scientific community is agreeing we have evidence of liquid water on Mars, there is some speculation about the composition of the water itself.
It is thought that these lakes exist on Earth due to the lowered melting point caused by the pressure of the ice above, allowing the water to exist as a liquid, as shown in the Lake Vostok figure below.
Yet, temperatures on Mars are expected to be at least -68ºC, which is eight degrees lower than our subglacial lakes, thus scientists are claiming the lake must have a composition similar to brackish water, containing large amounts of salts, but not quite enough to be considered sea water.
Regardless of what causes the water to remain liquid, we need to do more research to determine how much water is is on the infamously dry planet.
As mentioned earlier, we’ve found water on Mars before, in the form of RSL.
RSL stands for recurring slope lineae or small drizzles of water along the planet’s surface.
These drizzles tend to evaporate under the low atmospheric pressure on Mars, though and is gone before much can be learned.
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The presence of RSL has long encouraged scientists in the belief that there is a more stable body of water on Mars, and now that belief is paying off.
The presence of stable liquid water means the possibility of life, at least on a microscopic scale, according to Dr. Orosei.
“It’s very important to know if this is a unique thing. If it’s regional, not local, then you can have a whole system of subglacial lakes similar to what you see on Earth. You would have ways for living organisms, if they existed, to have a much larger environment and perhaps move around.”
As we continue to gather information from the Mars Express, hope grows that this once barren wasteland of a globe will one day support a thriving life-force.