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Researchers Find Thick Sheets of Ice Hiding Under Martian Surface

12 January 2018

One likely hypothesis includes snowfall on the red planet.

Scientists have discovered vast deposits of water ice on Mars, prompting calls for future study and improving the chances of possible habitability of the Red Planet. It's not just the volume of water they found (it's no mystery that Mars harbors a lot of ice in these particular regions), it's how mineable it promises to be. Most of this precious liquid escaped into space, but some of it stayed behind, transforming into ice and settling beneath the rocky surface.

"We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate", said Colin M. Dundas, from the US Geological Survey.

Those recently identified layers recommend that the ice was set down over some stretch of time, through a procedure that happened more than once. The snowfall could have occurred as of late as a huge number of years prior, Dundas says.

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Analyzing these features with a filter that accentuates colors, a team of researchers saw something notable for the Red Planet: a number of them had a distinctively blue color.

"That preserved record would be of extreme importance to go back to", G. Scott Hubbard, a space scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California told Science.

The sites are in both northern and southern hemispheres of Mars, at latitudes from about 55 to 58 degrees, equivalent on Earth to Scotland or the tip of South America.

Scientists hope that the ice sheets' proximity to the surface will facilitate their being studied using robots. Imaging with a spectrograph provided evidence of water at the Martian surface in the region, reinforcing the idea that this could be ice. Not having readily accessible water on Mars would be a real headache, and something that could delay or slow down exploration and migration efforts, and possibly force astronauts to the poles, where ice is more readily available at the surface. In any case, Dundas says that "at these areas its a significant thick ice sheet of rather clean ice".

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"One of the most interesting observations was seeing boulders fall out at one scarp, which suggested that it's actively sublimating or retreating, and also helped confirm that it was exposed ice and not surface frost", Dundas said.

There are plans to get humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Aside from potentially aiding in human exploration of Mars, the newly-mapped ice sheets could also unlock secrets hidden in Mars' past.

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Researchers Find Thick Sheets of Ice Hiding Under Martian Surface