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Radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars

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Science  03 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6401, pp. 490-493
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar7268

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Liquid water under Mars' southern ice cap

Mars is known to host large quantities of water in solid or gaseous form, and surface rocks show clear evidence that there was liquid water on the planet in the distant past. Whether any liquid water remains on Mars today has long been debated. Orosei et al. used radar measurements from the Mars Express spacecraft to search for liquid water in Mars' southern ice cap (see the Perspective by Diez). They detected a 20-km-wide lake of liquid water underneath solid ice in the Planum Australe region. The water is probably kept from freezing by dissolved salts and the pressure of the ice above. The presence of liquid water on Mars has implications for astrobiology and future human exploration.

Science, this issue p. 490; see also p. 448

Abstract

The presence of liquid water at the base of the martian polar caps has long been suspected but not observed. We surveyed the Planum Australe region using the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) instrument, a low-frequency radar on the Mars Express spacecraft. Radar profiles collected between May 2012 and December 2015 contain evidence of liquid water trapped below the ice of the South Polar Layered Deposits. Anomalously bright subsurface reflections are evident within a well-defined, 20-kilometer-wide zone centered at 193°E, 81°S, which is surrounded by much less reflective areas. Quantitative analysis of the radar signals shows that this bright feature has high relative dielectric permittivity (>15), matching that of water-bearing materials. We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars.

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