THE WA­TERS OF MARS

A lake could be a likely lo­ca­tion for life on Mars, but any­thing there needs to have a taste for salt and dark places

Sky at Night Magazine - - MARS UPDATE -

JULY

Has wa­ter fi­nally been found on Mars? In July, ESA an­nounced that radar data taken by Mars Ex­press showed ev­i­dence of a lake deep be­neath the sur­face.

“We de­tected very strong echoes com­ing from 1.5km be­low the sur­face of the south po­lar cap,” says Roberto Oro­sei, prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of Mars Ex­press’s radar in­stru­ment, MARSIS (Mars Ad­vanced Radar for Sub­sur­face and Iono­sphere Sound­ing). “They point to the pres­ence of liq­uid wa­ter, the nat­u­ral ma­te­rial that best re­flects radar waves.”

As past ‘dis­cov­er­ies’ of Mar­tian wa­ter have turned out to be un­founded, the team checked for other pos­si­bil­i­ties. Af­ter sev­eral months, they are con­vinced their the­ory re­mains the best ex­pla­na­tion. “It’s a body of wa­ter 20km across,” says Oro­sei. “We know that the liq­uid wa­ter must be about 1m thick, or else the radar would not be able to see it.”

Some have won­dered whether the lake could har­bour Mar­tian life, but any mi­crobes call­ing the pond home would need to be ex­tremely hardy. To avoid freez­ing, the wa­ter must be so salty no life as we know it could sur­vive there. But as we would cur­rently strug­gle to drill through 1.5km of ice on Earth, let alone on an­other planet, it will prob­a­bly be some time un­til we can check what the wa­ter’s like on Mars.

Radar data from Mars Ex­press’s MARSIS equip­ment may have found a sub­sur­face lake on Mars un­der its south pole. Cor­rob­o­rat­ing ev­i­dence came in the form of an Ex­oMars image from May 2018 (bot­tom) that also re­vealed lay­ered de­posits at the south pole of Mars

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