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Salty Lake, Ponds May Be Gurgling Beneath South Pole on Mars | Science News

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By MARCIA DUNN, Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A network of salty ponds may be gurgling beneath Mars’ South Pole alongside a large underground lake, raising the prospect of tiny, swimming Martian life.

Italian scientists reported their findings Monday, two years after identifying what they believed to be a large buried lake. They widened their coverage area by a couple hundred miles, using even more data from a radar sounder on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.

In the latest study appearing in the journal Nature Astronomy, the scientists provide further evidence of this salty underground lake, estimated to be 12 miles to 18 miles (20 kilometers to 30 kilometers) across and buried 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) beneath the icy surface.

Even more tantalizing, they’ve also identified three smaller bodies of water surrounding the lake. These ponds appear to be of various sizes and are separate from the main lake.

Roughly 4 billion years ago, Mars was warm and wet, like Earth. But the red planet eventually morphed into the barren, dry world it remains today.

The research team led by Roma Tre University’s Sebastian Emanuel Lauro used a method similar to what’s been used on Earth to detect buried lakes in the Antarctic and Canadian Arctic. They based their findings on more than 100 radar observations by Mars Express from 2010 to 2019; the spacecraft was launched in 2003.

All this potential water raises the possibility of microbial life on — or inside — Mars. High concentrations of salt are likely keeping the water from freezing at this frigid location, the scientists noted. The surface temperature at the South Pole is an estimated minus 172 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 113 degrees Celsius), and gets gradually warmer with depth.

These bodies of water are potentially interesting biologically and

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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

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Salty lakes below Mars’ glaciers could harbor life

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Scientists have detected a series of saltwater lakes beneath the glaciers of Mars’ southern ice cap. The researchers think the liquid in these lakes doesn’t freeze and become solid, despite the low temperatures of Mars’ glaciers, due to its extremely high concentrations of salt.

The Mars Express spacecraft, which has been surveying the red planet since 2005, had previously detected signs of a subglacial lake basin on Mars’ south pole, but it was unclear whether the lake was liquid or what it contained.

mars ice cap south pole southern

The southern ice cap of Mars, April 17, 2000.


NASA/JPL



To find out, a group of Italian, German, and Australian researchers applied a radio-echo technique that Earth satellites use to detect subsurface lakes in Antarctica. They scanned the area multiple times from 2010 to 2019, then published their results in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday.

The analysis confirmed the liquid-water nature of Mars’ underground lake, as well as its extreme saltiness.

Elena Pettinelli, a professor of geophysics at Italy’s Roma Tre University who led the study, told NBC News that scientists are “much more confident now” that these Martian lakes exist.

“We did many more observations, and we processed the data completely differently,” Pettinelli added.

What’s more, the researchers also found “a more extensive, complex scenario with ubiquitous water patches surrounding the subglacial lake,” according to the study.

The discovery offers yet another possible habitat for life to persist on Mars.

Ancient life may have retreated to underground lakes on Mars

Scientists think the Martian surface was once rich with rivers, lakes, and seas, but all the surface water evaporated as a flow of particles from the sun stripped away the planet’s atmosphere. Earth’s strong magnetic field, by contrast, has allowed it to hold onto its atmosphere and its surface water.

mars surface river channels water

The southern section of the