There’s Water on Mars—and Lots of It

Fagjun | Published 2018-01-20 06:06

Humans that will set foot on Mars in the future may not have to worry about access to water, since the planet has vast reserves of it under its surface.


A layer of ice within rock [Image by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS]

A layer of ice within rock [Image by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS]

 

Mars may seem dry, arid, and inhospitable, but there’s a reason that we shouldn’t judge anything by its looks. Back in 2002, scans by NASA’s Odyssey mission indicated the presence of a thin layer of ground ice in the planet’s higher latitudes. Six years later, in 2008, the Phoenix mission discovered water ice near the surface at its landing ice near Mars’s north pole. Later on in 2016, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) discovered a sheet of water ice in the planet’s mid-latitudes, with just as much water as Lake Superior, one of North America’s Great Lakes.

 

Even so, scientists haven’t really had a good idea on how much water ice there is under the surface of Mars, and how accessible that ice is. A new study, however, makes this a lot more clear.



Layers of Ice


Water is apparently easier to access on Mars than previously thought. [Image by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS]

Water is apparently easier to access on Mars than previously thought. [Image by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS]

 

It turns out that subsurface water ice on Mars is quite easily accessible, which is good news for plans for a future base on the planet. According to the study, an MRO survey found eight different sites wherein erosion has revealed layers of ice and rock. The ice layers lay just three to six feet under the rocky surface, indicating that future Mars missions may have an easier time finding a water source for drinking and rocket fuel. This also confirms the theory that these regions of Mars experienced heavy snowfall millions of years ago, during a time when Mars tilted in a steeper angle.

 

The findings of the MRO survey show that the sites were found in Martian latitudes that correspond to latitudes in which Scotland and South America are situated on Earth. A lack of craters in these Martian regions suggests that the ice features came about only recently.

 

Researchers were able to spot the sites by using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the MRO to assess color. Though the MRO has previously found other sites that contained significant amounts of water ice, these findings are the first to indicate how deep underground the ice layers were.



Mars Missions


Future Mars bases now have a better chance at water access.

Future Mars bases now have a better chance at water access.

 

Finding water on Mars is a particularly important deal, especially when it comes to future Mars missions. Water is a vital, valuable resource, and missions would most likely obtain water by extracting it from Mars itself. Not only could the water be used for drinking and fuel, but astronauts could also break water molecules down to hydrogen and oxygen, which could then be used for breathable air as well.

 

Ice mining is one possible way to extract water from Mars, but this was dependent on how far underneath the surface the ice was. If it were something like 30 feet under the surface, it would not be worth the effort to extract. However, the discovery that there are sheets of ice just a few feet under the surface is very good news indeed to future settlements on Mars.

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