New satellite imagery shows sizeable amounts of ice have been found lying beneath the surface in some areas of Mars, a study has revealed.
The ice sheets recently-found on Mars appear to contain distinct layers, which suggests that further study of the sheets could shed considerable light on the planet’s climate.
The fact that the ice is buried just a few feet from Martian dirt places also suggests that they might be accessible to any future missions to the Red Planet.
The satellite images show what researchers have identified as large sheets of ice between and around steep slopes called ‘scarps’. Some of the ice sheets are believed to be around 100 meters thick, with slopes up to 55 degrees.
Researchers suspect that conditions similar to Earth’s may exist or have previously existed on other planets, although nothing has been confirmed.
In 2011, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent back images of strange dark streaks on some slopes of Mars. Four years later, scientists presented evidence that the streaks were caused by hydrated minerals that flowed down the slopes during the Martian warm seasons.
The new images of the ice sheets are the first to give scientists a clear sense of vertical characteristics of underground ice on the planet. Furthermore, they also confirm previous theories that Mars holds sheets of thick ice, thus helping scientists unravel the Red Planet’s water history.
Although scientists have previously known of ice on Mars, the new discovery shows how large the sheets can get.
Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, USA, and a co-author of the study that has been published in the journal Science said: ““Humans need water wherever they go, and it’s very heavy to carry with you. Previous ideas for extracting human-usable water from Marswere to pull it from the very dry atmosphere or to break down water-containing rocks, Here we have what we think is almost pure water ice buried just below the surface.
Byrne added: “You don’t see a high-tech solution. You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need. I think it’s sort of a game-changer. It’s also much closer to places humans would probably land as opposed to the polar caps, which are very inhospitable.”