by Elton Gomes
A lake of liquid water has been identified beneath the southern polar ice cap on Mars, as per a new study by researchers from the Italian Space Agency. The evidence was gathered by the instrument known as Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, or MARSIS, on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.
Between the period of May 2012 and December 2015, MARSIS surveyed the Planum Australe region, which comes under the southern ice cap of Mars. MARSIS then sent radar pulses through the surface and polar ice caps, and it measured the ways in which radio waves reflected back to Mars Express.
The researchers believe that the water body is situated below Mars’ south polar ice cap, and is about 20 kilometres across. This is the first time an existing water body has been detected on the planet; it could possibly translate to potential habitable conditions on the Red planet!
— CNN (@CNN) July 26, 2018
The lake water, however, might not be drinkable, and it reportedly lies almost 1.5 kilometres beneath the icy surface of Mars. Experts are sceptical of the possibility as Martian salts and minerals could be mixed with the lake in high amounts.
Enrico Flamini, the former chief scientist of the Italian Space Agency who oversaw the research, said, “Water is there.” Flamini added, “It is liquid, and it’s salty, and it’s in contact with rocks. There are all the ingredients for thinking that life can be there, or can be maintained there if life once existed on Mars,” the New York Times reported.
The current findings are something to look forward to, because scientists have long been searching for signs of water on the Red planet. However, these signs have not yielded anything or have been uncertain. In addition, the presence of a water body could pave the way for life beyond Earth: Now that water has been found, can Mars be inhabited by humans?
What this means for finding life on Mars?
Experts are of the opinion that nothing definite can be said, but the search for life has been made easier. Dr Manish Patel from Open University, UK, said, “We are not closer to actually detecting life, but what this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars. It is like a treasure map – except in this case, there will be lots of ‘X’s marking the spots,” the BBC reported.
Jonathan Lunine, director of the Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study, said that if it is liquid water, the intense saltiness would make it difficult to sustain life in the lake. Lunine said, “It may exceed the salt content that any terrestrial organisms that we know of can survive in,” he said, the New York Times reported. However, Lunine was very interested in the study: “Having a stable body of liquid water today is very intriguing and worthy of study.”
Lujendra Ojha, a 25-year-old planetary scientist currently pursuing his PhD at Georgia Institute of Technology, has been associated with discovering flowering liquid salt water on Mars back in 2011. Speaking to Firstpost, Ojha said that human habitation is just a “matter of time.” Ojha said, “Human habitation is definitely possible on Mars. It is only a matter of time before it comes a reality.”
In terms of the current finding of liquid water on Mars, Ojha said, “Life as we know it, requires water to survive, so this finding has increased our chances of human habitation and also raises the possibility of extant life on Mars.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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