Large Underground Lake Detected Below Mars Ice Cap, Study Says

Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water, ' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected.

Researchers have found an "underground lake" of liquid water on Mars for the first time. That data revealed what appears to be evidence of liquid water sitting trapped beneath the ice on the planet's pole. A NASA spacecraft with the same mission and similar technology hasn't detected the body of water, suggesting that it may be transient and not the permanent source that life would need to survive.

This particular lake, however, would not be drinkable, and lies nearly a mile deep (1.5 kilometers) beneath the icy surface in a harsh and frigid environment.

"Even with those limitations, we've now found that there is likely to be liquid water in the Martian subsurface", Stamenkovic said.

Though the temperature on Mars may be too cold for pure water, Orosei and fellow researchers from a number of Italian instituitions noted it was possible that the water was mixed with dissolved salts of magnesium, calcium, and sodium to form a brine, researchers said.

"This is a discovery of extraordinary significance, and is bound to heighten speculation about the presence of living organisms on the Red Planet", said Fred Watson, of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

A team of Italian researchers on Wednesday announced they have discovered a large saltwater lake.

An instrument called MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) carried aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft collected low-frequency radar profiles of the area between May 2012 and December 2015.

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Lake Vostok is a persistent lake of freshwater, some 4 kilometres below the surface of the East Antarctica ice sheet. For example, a radar wave that travels through rock will reflect the penetrating pulses back to the antenna more quickly than those that travel through water.

These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface".

A total of 29 sets of radar samplings showed a "very sharp change in its associated radar signal", allowing scientists to map the outlines of the lake.

The Mars Express spacecraft discovered the body of water beneath the southern ice cap. Further evaluation of the bright feature indicated an interface between the ice and a stable body of liquid water.

Evidence for Mars' watery past is prevalent across its surface in the form of vast dried-out river valley networks and huge outflow channels clearly imaged by orbiting spacecraft.

"It is unusual that SHARAD can not confirm this discovery. In fact, SHARAD cannot penetrate through the ice here and no one understands why it can't", Stillman said. We've known for good while that it should be there-"No doubt there is water on Mars", NASA wrote in 1967-we just needed to answer the very big questions of how much there was, what form it took, and where it could be found.

"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper, said in a press release.

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