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Are there super salty lakes on Mars? Research suggests buried reservoir near south pole

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The existence of liquid water on Mars — one of the more hotly debated matters about our cold, red neighbor — is looking increasingly likely.

New research published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy indicates that there really is a buried reservoir of super salty water near the south pole. Scientists say such a lake would significantly improve the likelihood that Mars just might harbor microscopic life of its own.

Some scientists remain unconvinced that what’s been seen is liquid water, but the latest study adds weight to a tentative 2018 finding from radar maps of the planet’s crust made by the Mars Express robot orbiter.

That research suggested that an underground “lake” of liquid water had pooled beneath frozen layers of sediment near the south pole — akin to the subglacial lakes detected beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth.

Image: Mars south polar ice cap (Bj?rn Schreiner - FU Berlin / ESA)
Image: Mars south polar ice cap (Bj?rn Schreiner – FU Berlin / ESA)

Earth’s subglacial lakes are teeming with bacterial life, and similar life might survive in liquid reservoirs on Mars, scientists have speculated.

“We are much more confident now,” said Elena Pettinelli, a professor of geophysics at Roma Tre University in Italy, who led the latest research and the earlier study. “We did many more observations, and we processed the data completely differently.”

Pettinelli and her team processed 134 observations of the region near the south pole with ground-penetrating radar from the Mars Express orbiter from 2012 to 2019, more than four times as many as before, covering a period of time more than twice as long.

They then applied a new technique to the observation data that has been used to find lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, as well as an older technique used in the 2018 study.

Both methods indicate that there is