Mars Express Just Discovered a Subsurface Liquid Water Lake on Mars

Enlarge Image Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars.                  ESA  INAF  Davide Coero Borga

Researchers are still waiting to see if any more bodies of water are found on the Red planet or if this was a one-off discovery.

An underground salt-laden lake has been found on Mars, according to Italian researchers.

All of that water is either locked up in solid form, however, or locked away in the distant past.

Liquid water is an essential requirement for life as we understand it.

Located under a layer of Martian ice, the lake is about 20 km wide, said the report led by Italian researchers in the United States journal Science.

However, other experts have yet to confirm the study's findings. The readings turned up a bright radar reflection indicative of liquid water, shown as blue on the map at right.

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An Italian team made the discovery analysing a radar survey that was done between 2012 and 2015 by the Mars Express orbiter spacecraft.

This particular lake, however, would be neither swimmable nor drinkable, and lies nearly 1.5 kilometers deep (one mile) beneath the icy surface in a harsh and frigid environment.

They spent at least two years examining the data to make sure they'd detected water, not ice or another substance.

Mars is very cold, but the water might have been kept from freezing by dissolved salts.

"The fact that it's buried underneath the surface isn't a big surprise, because liquid water can not exist on the surface of Mars, it's simply not possible because of the atmospheric pressure is too thin", Enright said.

However, pure liquid water has never been found until now. Another problem is that SHARAD, the Shallow Radar instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, operates at a higher frequency designed for studying ice on the surface. "This is something that is to us the tell tale sign of the presence of water", says Prof Orosei. These penetrate its surface but bounce back when they hit a boundary between different materials, such as ice and bedrock.

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"I think the more we explore Mars, the more intriguing and complex it becomes", Lunine said. A particularly bright radar reflection underneath the layered deposits is identified within a 20-km-wide zone. The radar cross section has been tilted 90°. Credit: Credits: ESA, INAF.

While Bramson did not immediately interpret the signal as necessarily one of water, she said the potential would be interesting for life. With the stunning findings, that debate is likely to be put to bed. "It's the first place where microorganisms like those that exist today on Earth could survive", said Dr. Roberto Orosei of the INAF to IFL Science.

"We have long since known that the surface of Mars is inhospitable to life as we know it, so the search for life on Mars is now in the subsurface".

"Even with those limitations, we've now found that there is likely to be liquid water in the Martian subsurface", Stamenkovic said.

Being able to access water sources could help humans survive on a future crewed mission to Earth's neighbouring planet. Researchers have also likened the discovery to Antarctica's Lake Vostok. For the first time, there were images of an alien world, one that the inhabitants of Earth knew basically nothing about. "This is certainly not a very pleasant environment for life ... Those are not ideal conditions for life to form", Siebach said.

"It will require flying a robot there, which is capable of drilling through 1.5 kilometres of ice", he explained.

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