Underground Ice Sheets On Mars Solve The Water Problem For Settlers

Underground Ice Sheets On Mars

We think of Mars as a dry and desolate planet. But, that might not be the case. NASA and the US Geological Survey used devices onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to examine the structure of the underground ice sheets on the planet. These underground ice sheets maintain a record of the planet’s past and could work as an easy access water supply for human’s future settling on the planet.

The early scans came from the Shallow Radar technology and were inadequate. The new study centers on eight spots around the middle latitudes of Mars where these sheets were shown to the surface. Using the MRO’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, a cross-sectional look at the ice was likely which made it more accessible to learn about the composition.

“The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice,” says Shane Byrne, co-author of the study. “It’s like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what’s usually hidden beneath the ground.”

Some of the opened sections are as thick as 90 meters and the researchers have speculated that the ice is really pure and there is very small contamination by dust and rock in the water. This could be useful for future explorers. This, linked with the fact that it is closer to the surface than previously thought means “Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need,” according to Byrne.

These underground ice sheets will not only play a role in providing water to the first settlers on Mars but, as the ice cores dug from polar regions on Earth provide valuable information about the history of the climate, they will give an insight to the planet’s past.

“If you had a mission at one of these sites, sampling the layers going down the scarp, you could get a detailed climate history of Mars,” says Leslie Tamppari, Deputy Project Scientist on MRO. “It’s part of the whole story of what happens to water on Mars over time: Where does it go? When does ice accumulate? When does it recede?”

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