Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

Glaciers spotted on Mars could support future Martian bases

Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars
Isaac Mcdaniel | 13 January, 2018, 01:02

While scientists already knew that about a third of the surface of Mars contains shallow ground ice and that its poles harbour major ice deposits, the research published on Thursday described thick underground ice sheets exposed along slopes up to 100 yards (meters) tall at the planet's middle latitudes.

Using images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the planet since 2006, scientists working with the space agency discovered ice sheets that are relatively pure and partially exposed on the Martian surface.

"These shallow depths make the ice sheets potentially accessible to future exploration, and the (cliffs) present cross-sections of these ices that record past episodes of ice deposition on Mars", reads the report.

'If you had a mission at one of these sites, sampling the layers going down the scarp, you could get a detailed climate history of Mars, ' suggested MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Of probably wider public interest, however, is that the ice shelves "might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet", they said.

There's a lot of mystery surrounding Mars, but scientists have recently made a groundbreaking discovery: ice. A probe of the scarps disclosed that the thick ice is concealed just beneath the surface. These scarps are thought to be formed by a process called sublimation, where ice is lost to the atmosphere by transformation into water vapor without ever turning into liquid.

It is estimated that almost one-third of Mars surface has ice just below its surface. Some of that ice was then covered up by the movement of dirt on the surface of the planet, saving it from sublimating - turning straight from a solid into gas.

Interestingly, scientists think that Mars' obliquity - the tilt of the planet's axis relative to the plane of its orbit - has shifted a fair bit over the past few million years, varying between about 15 and 35 degrees, Dundas said.

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Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbors subsurface water ice.

"In many ways, water is the key resource: Humans need liquid water biologically, water can be processed to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for energy generation and even rocket fuel".

That said, it may not be all that easy to access the ice found in the new study.

Mars, with some of its polar ice visible.

The new study suggests that the ice built up over time, much the same way that Earth's glaciers and ice sheets came to be. The authors of the study theorize that the layers of ice began as snow, which compacted and hardened into ice sheets.

In addition to helping humans visit Mars, the ice could also tell us tales about the past Martian climate if we were able to drill a core from one of the hidden glaciers and study it.

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