Mars Express Radar Indicates a Liquid Lake Under the South Pole

A 12-mile wide lake of liquid water has been discovered below the Martian southern ice cap increasing the possibility of life on the planet

A 12-mile wide lake of liquid water has been discovered below the Martian southern ice cap increasing the possibility of life on the planet

Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars, superimposed to a color mosaic of a portion of Planum Australe.

The next step is for space authorities to definitively confirm the body of water is there - and then the search for life begins.

The location's radar profile resembled that of subglacial lakes found beneath Earth's Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

With surface temperatures as low as minus 68C, it would not exist as a liquid under normal conditions.

The discovery was made using MARSIS, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, housed within the Mars Express orbiter.

Among the 29 radar samplings, the scientists spotted a series of unusually strong reflections bearing a distinct electrical hallmark.

"All the technology to drill through this ice to the lake doesn't exist yet so it will probably take at least another 25 years before we will be examining this". Its ground-penetrating radar detects boundaries between structures of different dielectric permittivity - a measure of a material's electrical polarisation under the influence of an external electric field.

Mars Express orbiting Mars with a cross section of radar echoes superimposed and tilted 90 degrees. The blue triangle indicates an area of very high reflectivity, interpreted as being caused by the presence of a reservoir of water, about a mile below the surface. They do not know whether it's an underground pool or just a layer of sludge.

The first large, stable mass of liquid water had been detected on Mars - boosting the chance of one day finding life on the planet.

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A few years ago, biologists found more than 3,500 unique gene sequences in Lake Vostok which had been isolated for more than 15 million years; Lake Vostok gets no sunlight with it being 4,000 metres below the ice and has a recorded temperature of -89.2c, showing life to be hardy.

It has always been suspected that the Red Planet is not as dry and arid as it looks.

The pulses that came back created the aforementioned "well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone" and found that the radar reflected the brightness of the liquid water.

Of course, the big question now is whether this lake or others like it is home to microbial life.

Last week data were released revealing that there are organic molecules on Mars.

"This is certainly not a very pleasant environment for life", he said.

The researchers noted that together, with the pressure of the, this lowers the melting point, allowing the lake to remain liquid, as happens on Earth.

Associate Professor Alan Duffy, lead scientist of Australia's science Channel, said the ending of Total Recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger melted vast ice reserves just became less science fiction and more science fact.

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