Important signs of water on Mars
The Mars Express probe of the European Space Agency (ESA) revealed that the extensive layers located under the soil of the equator of Mars, with a depth of several kilometers, are more extensive than initially estimated.
This discovery suggests the presence of ice, which reaches quantities that could constitute the largest amount of water found in this region of the planet. The Mars Express mission, which has been exploring Mars for twenty years in collaboration with NASA, identified these deposits more than 15 years ago while investigating the Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF), which reach depths of up to 2.5 km. However, at that time its composition could not be determined.
“We have re-explored the MFF using more recent data from the Mars Express MARSIS radar and have discovered that the deposits are even thicker than we thought: up to 3.7 km thick“, details Thomas Watters, from the Smithsonian Institute (USA), lead author of both the new research and the initial 2007 study.
Water on Mars: Useful for Earth?
The signals identified by MARSIS are “highly similar” to those found in the polar caps of Mars, known to be rich in ice, it notes. These deposits are so extensive that if they melted, the underground ice could cover the entire surface of the planet with a layer of water 1.5 to 2.7 km deep, equivalent to filling the Red Sea on Earth.
The existence of this considerable mass of ice will not only contribute to understanding the planet’s climatic evolution, but will also be crucial for future manned missions, the researchers highlight.
The Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF) is characterized by various wind-sculpted structures, hundreds of kilometers in diameter and several kilometers high, located at the transition between the high and low lands of Mars. These formations are possibly the main source of dust on Mars.
Notably, previous Mars Express observations indicated that the MFF was radar transparent and low-density, typical characteristics of ice deposits. However, at that time, the possibility that they were massive accumulations of dust, volcanic ash or sediments transported by the wind was not ruled out.
The new analysis suggests that the MFF hosts layers of ice and dust, covered by a thick protective dust layer several hundred meters thick.
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