Martian Ice Newly Detected, Could Supply Water for Human Outposts

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Huge ice sheets more than 300 feet deep have been discovered on Mars, making it possible that human astronauts could have access to nearly limitless water, scientists said Thursday.

Dundas and his colleagues used NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - a satellite that has circled Mars since 2006 providing scientists with a steady stream of photographs of the planet's surface. The 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) spacecraft launched in 2005 to broaden our understanding of Earth's celestial neighbor, looks like a very large, winged insect, and has a wide range of imaging and sensor equipment aboard.

"This subsurface ice could contain valuable records of the Martian climate, just like the Greenland and Antarctic ice cores", said Susan Conway, a planetary scientist at the University of Nantes in France.

These sites are steep, pole-facing slopes in Mars' midlatitudes, between about 55 and 60 degrees both north and south of the equator.

When we think of Mars, we think of a dry, desolate planet. The findings were published today (Jan. 11) in the journal Science.

The discovery is the clearest sign that life could be supported on Mars, with water the key to any civilisation.

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Which sounds great until one considers what every traveller to high alpine or polar climes knows: ice is less dense than water and it takes energy to melt it. Fours years later, scientists presented evidence that the streaks were caused by hydrated minerals that flowed down the slopes in the Martian warm seasons.

That, however, has not yet been confirmed.

"There's unquestionably some measure of tidy and flotsam and jetsam in it, and there can be little measures of salts or different things too, yet what we're seeing at the scarps are predominately ice", he includes.

This is not the first time ice has been found on Mars. They also may make frozen water more accessible than previously thought to future robotic or human exploration missions.

If you look at a photo of Mars, you'll mostly see red. Though the higher temperatures within this range is beneficial to astronauts, it can push ice deposits further into the ground, making it harder to access.

"This ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration", the study says. "What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before".