Science Magazine is reporting that liquid water was found on Mars! The European Space Agency announced signs Wednesday that a subsurface lake might exist beneath one of the polar ice caps on our red planetary cousin. Southwest Research Institute geophysicist, David Stillman, commented on the find to Science, saying the “indication of a briny aquifer” on mars, the first discovery of its kind, is “a very exciting result”.
The information comes to us from a clever device on one of the ESA’s Mars satellites, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS). MARSIS works by sending radio waves down to the icy surface of the caps, and waiting for sonic echoes to return in order to measure depth and composition; it can make a distinction between ice and rock, for example. Recently, the satellite received radar reflection consistent with liquid water. Although this isn’t verifiable evidence of liquid water, it has promising implications.
The idea of water on Mars is not a new one. Common theories suggest that Mars was once a wet world (several billion years ago), with enough atmospheric density to support long ravines of water which cut riverways along its surface. Now Mars is largely dry, and while ice caps do exist within its inhospitable environment, they contain large amounts of carbon dioxide and other dangerous chemical compounds. For most, the seeming revelation of a large aquifer hidden below the surface of Mars is a hopeful one, but others, even members of the MARSIS team, are skeptical. “I would say the interpretation is plausible, “ admits Jeffrey Plaut, a MARSIS collaborator from NASA’s JPL, before he adds “but it’s not quite a slam dunk yet”.
Daniel Clery, writer for Science, does a great job of explaining all the considerations that would need to go into further research of the discovery. Go over to his article to find out more!
Cover image via NASA