The latest find about Mars has excited the scientists. Thick sheets of ice have been found beneath the surface of the Red Planet. These ice sheets were found below large slopes, and the interesting thing is that these ice sheets are made up of relatively clean water. Beneath one such large slope, an ice sheet is present that is almost 330 feet (100 meters) thick and this result in the blue-black hue of the lands space.
The researchers of the latest study said that newly found ice sheets have distinct layers that could throw considerable light on the climate history of Mars. As the ice deposits are covered by just a few feet of Martian dirt, this could possibly allow future astronomers who travel to Mars to access those ice sheets. Lead author of the study Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff said that although he is not familiar with the resource extraction technology, but the discovery can prove to be beneficial for future crewed missions to Mars.
For the study, Dundas and his team analyzed high-resolution images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera fitted on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of NASA. They found out three dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars. The scientists identified eighth such deposits of ice sheet exposed by erosions. Dundas said that the high-resolution data has greatly improved their understanding of various ice-related landforms on Mars. Mars, being known as an icy and dried planet, is not a new thing.
When NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft arrived on the planet in 2001, it found traces of hydrogen on the red planet through its gamma-ray spectrometer. This indicates that Martian surface contains enormous amounts of ice. Also, the Curiosity rover that is currently exploring Mars has also found evidence of dried lakes and oceans on Mars. All these things indicate that Mars was a watery planet in its initial phase and now it has become a dry and icy planet.
Researchers previously used MRO’s Shallow Radar (SHARAD) to map extensive underground water-ice sheets in middle latitudes of Mars and estimate that the top of the ice is less than about 10 yards beneath the ground surface. How much less? The radar method did not have sufficient resolution to say. The new ice-scarp studies confirm indications from fresh-crater and neutron-spectrometer observations that a layer rich in water ice begins within just one or two yards of the surface in some areas.
Throwing some more light about the latest icy imagery of Mars, Dundas said, “The take-home message is, these are nice exposures that teach us about the 3D structure of the ice, including that the ice sheets begin shallowly, and also that there are fine layers.” Although previous studies made scientists ware of the ice deposits on the ice, the latest study can provide vital information about the thickness, layering, and purity of ice on the red planet. This could, in return, give some more insights about Mars’ climatic conditions in the past.
Astronauts’ access to Martian water
The new study not only suggests that underground water ice lies under a thin covering over wide areas, it also identifies eight sites where ice is directly accessible, at latitudes with less hostile conditions than at Mars’ polar ice caps. “Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need,” Byrne said.
The exposed ice has scientific value apart from its potential resource value because it preserves evidence about long-term patterns in Mars’ climate. The tilt of Mars’ axis of rotation varies much more than Earth’s, over rhythms of millions of years. Today the two planets’ tilts are about the same. When Mars tilts more, climate conditions may favor buildup of middle-latitude ice. Dundas and co-authors say that banding and color variations apparent in some of the scarps suggest layers “possibly deposited with changes in the proportion of ice and dust under varying climate conditions.”
This research benefited from coordinated use of multiple instruments on Mars orbiters, plus the longevities at Mars now exceeding 11 years for MRO and 16 years for Odyssey. Orbital observations will continue, but future missions to the surface could seek additional information.
“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. “It’s part of the whole story of what happens to water on Mars over time: Where does it go? When does ice accumulate? When does it recede?”
Earlier studies had assumed that the water was swept into space by powerful solar winds when the planet’s magnetic field collapsed, while some were captured in sub-surface ice.
Researchers think they’ve discovered the answer, based on a new model: The water is inside the Martian mantle. It’s not the only explanation for the disappearing oceans, but the particular geology and chemistry of Mars infers that, in its early years, the planet sucked up way more water than Earth did.
“Because there’s more iron in the Martian mantle than the Earth’s mantle, that would make it more prone to reacting with water,” Jon Wade from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford told Gizmodo. “Essentially, that’s what we’ve shown”.
Study co-author Jon Wade of Oxford said that on Earth, chemical weathering and hydrothermal reactions could become minerals in rock from dry to water-bearing. But Martian rock, because of a different structure, is much better at doing so. Such rocks would have responded with the surface water on the planet, barring some of it up in their mineral structure.
Moreover, University of Arizona operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, leads MRO’s CRISM investigation. The Italian Space Agency provided MRO’s SHARAD instrument, Sapienza University of Rome leads SHARAD operations, and the Planetary Science Institute, based in Tucson, Arizona, leads U.S. involvement in SHARAD. Arizona State University, Tempe, leads the Odyssey mission’s THEMIS investigation. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the MRO and Odyssey projects for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built both orbiters and supports their operation.