In Brief: 20 km in diameter, triangle-shaped, and reminiscent of subglacial water reserves that exist in Antarctica, the massive lake was discovered near Mars’ south pole. The lake is located around one and a half kilometers below the surface.
Hidden beneath the icy surface of the south pole of the red planet, there is a massive lake of liquid water believed to be 20 kilometers in diameter. It is considered the first of its type ever discovered on Mars. According to reports, the lake is triangle-shaped and is sitting at a hyper-cooled -68°C.
The finding, made by a team of Italian astronomers thanks to images of the European Mars Express orbiter, was published in the journal “Science” and has been announced by the Italian Space Agency in Rome.
As experts explain, this very cold body of water is kept in liquid form as a ‘sludge-like’ salty brine.
However, scientists say it resembles the subglacial reserves of Antarctica, where they have found simple organisms.
This is huge news for our hopes of life on Mars.
We know that Billions of years ago, Mars harbored oceans, massive rivers, and lakes.
But its atmosphere was gradually destroyed and the planet cooled down.
At present, the liquid water on its surface seems destined to evaporate.
However, the water survives frozen in the polar ice caps or in underground ice deposits, areas that are mapped by the Marsis instrument (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) aboard the European Mars Express probe.
This instrument sends radar pulses that penetrate the terrain and blocks of ice and measure the time it takes to reflect to the spacecraft and with what force.
The reflected echoes provide scientists with information about what lies beneath.
Between May 2012 and December 2015, Dr. Roberto Orosei’s team, from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, used Marsis to inspect a region called Planum Australe, located in the Red Planet’s South Pole.
Dr. Orosei said: “This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist.”
“This kind of environment is not exactly your ideal vacation or a place where fish would swim. But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments.”
After making 29 passes over the area, the instrument recorded a very abrupt change in brightness.
In addition, the analysis of the echoes showed that it has a high dielectric constant, a characteristic of liquid materials.
Researchers are convinced that this is evidence of a lake that extends around 20 kilometers in diameter, and it is located staggering 1.5 kilometers beneath the surface.
This would mark the first time a stable, liquid body of water has been found on Mars.
However, the underground lake, located around one and a half kilometers beneath the Martian surface is most likely too deep for humans to reach, with our current technologies and equipment.
Professor Bobby Braun, a scientist at the University of Colorado and former chief technologist at Nasa, told National Geographic: “I think it’s very unlikely the first humans on Mars are going to drill down to several kilometers.”
“But I think it’s probably true that if this is a lake, there are other bodies of water like it that are perhaps closer to the surface.”
“If we knew that there was a big body of water at tens of meters down, that would be something you’d certainly want to know about when you’re planning a base camp.”
On the other hand, Dr. Brendan Burns, a microbiologist, and astrobiologist from The University of New South Wales says the discovery is intriguing evidence for the presence of life below the ice at the south pole on Mars.
“While the surface of Mars is inhospitable, there is the fascinating possibility that microbial life could survive and flourish in sub-glacial Martian waters,” she says.
“There is evidence on Earth of substantial microbial life in the waters below the poles – and even microbes that can survive within ice veins.”
“Whether similar scenarios are occurring on Mars remain to be experimentally established, but this finding of potential liquid water beneath the surface of Mars opens up fascinating areas of space exploration.”
Featured Image Credit: High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment: HiRISE False color high-resolution satellite imagery of the surface of Mars. NASA