A Hidden Lake on Mars Containing Liquid Has Been Discovered
There is evidence of a hidden lake on Mars, locked under a polar ice cap, giving researchers a new target for future explorations.
A recent observation made by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter has revealed what researchers believe to be a lake filled with liquid. The lake isn’t huge, but it does increase the possibility of finding life on Mars – but only slightly.
The lake is located under the planet’s south polar ice cap, and it measures roughly 12 miles across. Researchers aren’t able to determine the full volume of the lake, but it is at least one meter deep, possibly much deeper. It’s deep enough that it is more than just meltwater or flowing trickles that accumulated.
The lake was discovered as the orbiter passed over the planet and sent out signals, then examining what bounced back. Using this method, the researchers discovered something nearly a mile beneath the ice.
Researchers have long theorized that Mars once contained a significant amount of liquid, but the thin atmosphere made it impossible for it to remain on the surface. That has led some to believe Mars is a barren rock while others began to wonder if there was still liquid, just not on the surface. This latest discovery not only gives researchers a new focal point for future explorations, but it expands the hope that there may be more liquid on the Red Planet hidden beneath the surface.
“We have long since known that the surface of Mars is inhospitable to life as we know it, so the search for life on Mars is now in the subsurface,” Dr. Manish Patel from the Open University told the BBC. “This is where we get sufficient protection from harmful radiation, and the pressure and temperature rise to more favorable levels. Most importantly, this allows liquid water, essential for life.”
Unfortunately, while this lake does give hope that there are more hidden reservoirs of liquid on Mars, the chances of discovering life from it are minimal. The current best estimates are that the liquid is between 14 and -22 F°. Given that it isn’t frozen, that suggests that the lake is filled with salts. That makes the possibility of life there remote, but not impossible.
“We are not closer to actually detecting life, but what this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars,” said Dr Patel. ” It is like a treasure map – except in this case, there will be lots of ‘X’s marking the spots.”
The next step is to continue to research the lake, with the hopes that this discovery could lead to a future mission for a rover that could land on the ice and drill deep enough to reach the liquid below. It won’t be easy, but it could lead to a better understanding of the history of the Red Planet.