Social media is buzzing over NASA’s breakthrough discovery of easy accessible water on the planet Mars.
— Maxime Duprez (@maximaxoo) January 12, 2018
Massive water ice sheets discovered on #Mars: https://t.co/r98ckh1uKs. Using data from @NASA's MRO & Mars Odyssey, scientists discovered cliffs composed mostly of water ice, which is slowly sublimating as it is exposed to the atmosphere. @TIME story: https://t.co/2FbpTumxo3. pic.twitter.com/wGMdtNOtEV
— NASA's MAVEN Mission (@MAVEN2Mars) January 12, 2018
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 11, 2018
NASA and private companies like SpaceX are busy planning Mars missions, but only have a vague idea of how they’re going to find critical water supplies. Now, using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), researchers have discovered abundant, easy-to-access H20. A survey found no less than eight sites where cliff erosion has exposed thick deposits of nearly pure ice that lie just three to six feet below rock and dust. The findings mean that future missions, both manned and robotic, may have an easier time than expected digging up water for drinking and making rocket fuel.
As reported in the journal Science (paywall), the water was found in both the north and south of Mars, at latitudes equivalent to South America and Scotland. The exposed areas were found on scarps as steep as 55 degrees. Based on the absence of craters in the regions, scientists believe that the features formed relatively recently.
“The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice,” study co-author Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona told NASA. “It’s like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what’s usually hidden beneath the ground.”
Researchers found the scarp sites by gauging colors using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the MRO, and confirmed its purity using CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging spectrometer for Mars). The orbiter has previously found extensive ice sheets at other locations on Mars using its Shallow Radar camera, but it was impossible to say how deep it was. Now, scientists know that it’s close enough to access with relative ease.