Prof Lewis Dartnell
Astrobiologist and senior editor of the journal Astrobiology
“This discovery of a lake of liquid water underneath the south polar ice cap on Mars is very exciting for astrobiology and the search for life beyond Earth. Liquid water is one of the major prerequisites for life, and similar environments on Earth, such as Lake Vostok, sealed deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, provide analogues for what sort of microbial life we might hope to find here on Mars.
“But this subsurface lakewater on Mars would be an extremely challenging environment for life to survive in. The water, although liquid, is still punishingly frigid at around -70°C, and is probably also very salty to keep it liquid at such low temperatures. The lake is also 1.5km beneath hard-frozen ice, and so would be difficult to reach with robotic probes. But this is certainly a exciting potential habitat for extraterrestrial life that we’d love to try to explore.”