Massive Deposits of Water Ice Found on Mars

By Jake Parks | January 12, 2018 9:08 am
mars-water-ice

In this color-enhanced image of an eroding cliff (or scarp) on Mars taken from above, water ice is shown in blue. The top third of the image is the planet’s surface leading up to the cliff’s edge, while the bottom third is the valley below. (Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/USGS)

Despite the fact that Mars has an atmosphere just 1 percent as dense as Earth’s, the surface of the Red Planet still has to deal with plenty of weathering and erosion. In 2008, researchers even captured a full-scale avalanche on Mars as it plunged down a 2,300-foot slope into a valley. These types of geological events often expose the structures beneath the martian surface, revealing layers of rock, dry ice and even water ice.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) investigated eight steep and eroded slopes (known as scarps) at various locations across Mars. At each of these locations, they found thick shelves of relatively pure water ice located as little as 3.3 feet below the planet’s surface. Furthermore, some of these massive ice deposits were found to be more than 330 feet thick.

While scientists have observed water ice on the surface of the Red Planet many times before, researchers rarely get a chance to learn this much about its layering, thickness, purity and prevalence.

According to the research paper, “The ice exposed by the scarps likely originated as snow that transformed into massive ice sheets, now preserved beneath less than 1 to 2 [meters] of dry and ice-cemented dust or regolith near ±55° latitude.” In 2008, the Phoenix Mars lander discovered similar ice deposits along martian scarps, but they were found in regions much closer to the planet’s northern pole.

Since the ice deposits discovered in today’s study were found intact along the scarps’ steep, eroded slopes, the researchers believe the ice is “cohesive and strong.” Furthermore, the team found that the ice appears banded, showing layered variations in its blue color. This suggests that the massive ice deposits are composed of many distinct layers that have been squished together over time, preserving a record of Mars’ climate history. However, because there are few craters near these sites, the authors suggest the ice was formed relatively recently—in the past million years or so.

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Although the massive ice deposits formed quickly (geologically speaking), the researchers say they also recede a tiny bit each summer. In one scarp, the team found that over the course of only three martian years, multiple meter-wide boulders dislodged themselves from the ice deposits, tumbling down into the valley below. Based on this, the researchers estimated the ice is retreating (horizontally) at a rate of a few millimeters each year. This is probably due to the exposed, solid ice sublimating into gas as it contacts the thin martian air.

The discovery of these large reservoirs of pure water ice adds yet another piece of evidence supporting the increasingly held theory that water ice not only exists on Mars, but also is surprisingly common. Although the ice could obviously be used as a source of water for future manned missions to Mars, scientists have a long way to go before then. However, with the Mars 2020 rover just a few years away, the discovery of eight more tantalizing sites ripe for investigation is still an exciting find.

This post originally appeared in Astronomy.com.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Find fossils and cults of Yahweh implode. Let’s look.

    • Devlin Tay

      Why? The cult of Yahweh would simply say Yahweh created life everywhere.

      • OWilson

        I prefer the blessed miracle of the Big Bang!

        It fits the Kardashian, Iphone generation’s incessant desire of something from nothing.

        (And you don’t need to worry about such mundane emotions as concience!)

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          I’ve never understood the assertion that the Big Bang Theory undermines the possibility of a creator. It just moves the goal posts from “why is the universe here” to “why did the Big Bang happen”

          The only way to get around this question is to propose an infinite and/or timeless solution, and neither one of those even prevents the possibility of a divine creator from having created it as such.

          Even a wholly deterministic universe model leaves room for the existence of a divine spectator that set it all into motion according to the rules we call nature.

    • Donald Scott Baird

      You should read it again it seems that you missed quite a bit.

  • OWilson

    It’s long been know that Mars too has “climate change”.

    It is getting warmer, and the polar ice is retreating. The polar ice caps that were very prominent when I was a kid, are no longer dominant.

    But, NASA assures us, don’t be thinking that this is the same process that our planet is undergoing.

    It’s entirely co-incidental! :)

    Ook!

    • Andrew Worth

      Link please. I know of no reliable evidence of Martian climate change having occurred over recent decades.

      • OWilson

        Here ya go!

        Sun Blamed for Warming of Earth and Other Worlds – Live Science

        Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says –
        National Geographic

        A Gloomy Mars Warms Up – NASA

        2 votes for the Sun’s effect, 1 vote for dust storms, no votes for Fossil Fuels (yet!) :)

        • Andrew Worth

          As I said, I know of no reliable evidence of Martian climate change having occurred over recent decades. Those references do not provide evidence of warming over recent decades.

          • OWilson

            What “you have found”, and what “you” consider “reliable” evidence is entirely subjective, and really not my problem.

            But all opinions are welcome!

            Personally I’ll go with Nat Geo, LiveScience and NASA :)

            Also

            “Red Planet Heats Up: Ice Age Ending on Mars” – Space

            I published my links, that say Mars is warming, as requested, can you please post yours?

            Thanks :)

          • Andrew Worth

            “Red Planet Heats Up: Ice Age Ending on Mars”

            Yeah, since 350,000 years ago due to the Martian version of the Milankovitch cycles.

            The case for attributing recent global warming changes in the strength of solar cycles has evaporated, until the 1960 cycle the strength of the cycles had been increasing, since then they’ve been weakening. The most recent cycle, cycle 24 has been especially weak and as a result “skeptics” have been a lot quieter about the claims of a link between changes in global temperatures and the Sun. So, is the correlation between temperature and solar cycle strength supposed to be positive or negative?

          • OWilson

            Stll waiting! :)

          • Andrew Worth

            ? I said “I know of no reliable evidence of Martian climate change having occurred over recent decades.” Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, I don’t run around making claims without reasonable evidence to support them. If it makes you happy though I can supply you with authoritative sources supporting the claims that Earth is experiencing AGW.

          • OWilson

            I’m sure you can, Lol, but that wasn’t the topic!

            Bye!

          • Rockpruf

            Whew! OWilson took his ball and went home because he didn’t realize science could be so complicated. Lucky for him, and his mom, he still feels good about himself. Loser.

          • OWilson

            So’s yer old man! :)

    • Devlin Tay

      Everywhere has climate change. The difference is, on Earth, man-made climate change has been clearly linked to human beings’ massive increase in the use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. We know you’re a bit slow, but do try to keep up.

  • Mike Richardson

    This is good news both for potential sites to look for any microbes, and to support future human settlement. I’m sure Elon Musk is paying close attention.

  • Vijay Jegakumar

    maybe we have multiple bodies and are also living on mars

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