Does Mars Have Water?
Mars may look like a cold and arid planet from the surface, but it’s home to an amazing world of rivers, lakes and oceans. These awe-inspiring features have given scientists a lot of data about the planet’s past.
A new study suggests that up to 99 percent of the water that once flowed on Mars is still there today buried within minerals and salts. This discovery could open up opportunities for future missions to Mars that will be able to extract water from the Martian soil for humans and for fuel.
Water on Mars
If humans ever set foot on Mars, water will be one of the most important resources. Luckily, there is already some on the planet, frozen in a layer of ice that’s only a few miles beneath its surface.
The ice can be extracted, converted into liquid water and then pumped back to the surface. This would be much easier than trying to mine ice from the poles or even underground, where it is harder to reach.
Scientists have also discovered that there is a lot of water ice trapped underneath the surface of Mars’ soil, like permafrost on Earth. If scientists could find a way to melt that ice and extract it, they might be able to get more water to drink than they would from the polar ice caps.
Researchers used a radar instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express to scan an area of Mars called Utopia Planitia, where they detected what they believe is a lake-sized deposit of water ice beneath a layer of Martian soil that’s wider than the state of New Mexico. This finding is based on data from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding, or MARSIS, which bounces radio waves off layers of material to detect areas with high reflectivity.
Oceans on Mars
While we see Mars as a cold, dry desert today, it once ran deep with liquid water oceans. The discovery of such oceans has fueled the search for signs that life once flourished on the planet, as rovers and other robotic missions hunt for evidence of past habitability.
A new study uses new topographic maps that reveal traces of the shoreline that once existed on Mars’ northern hemisphere. The team used software developed by the United States Geological Survey to map data from NASA and the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA).
They discovered scores of fluvial ridges that were grouped into 20 systems. The ridges were likely eroded river deltas or submarine-channel belts that represent the remnants of an ancient Martian shoreline. The study also found that these features accumulated sediment over a period of 3.5 billion years. This substantial build-up of sediment implies the existence of a massive ancient ocean.
Rivers on Mars
Scientists have long been looking for rivers on Mars, but they’ve had a difficult time finding them. To solve this problem, Jay Dickson and his team at the California Institute of Technology mapped ridges left behind by rivers (fluvial ridges).
These ridges are like the broad Mississippi floodplains or steep walls of the Grand Canyon. They’re a record of how the planet was covered by water millions and billions of years ago.
By mapping these ridges, Dickson and his team were able to connect the global dots of ancient Martian rivers, deltas, and lakes. It also helped them clear up some of the mysteries surrounding large-scale hydrologic processes. This research could help us understand the climate and environment of Mars in its earliest days, when it was far more hospitable than it is today.
Ice on Mars
There is plenty of water ice on Mars, and it can be found under the surface across most of the planet. In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix lander was able to locate water ice buried as little as a meter beneath the surface.
But that’s not all: In the mid-latitudes between the equator and poles, explorers can also find huge stores of underground ice that have been buried under just a light dusting of Martian soil. The ice may come from an ancient snowfall that was preserved under a thin layer of Martian dust, researchers say.
A new study shows that these deposits resemble carbon dioxide ice, found on Earth, but they are much thicker and form glaciers that flow into basins and survive warm periods. This means that they can be the building blocks of liquid water on Mars and a record of past climates on the Red Planet, scientists said.