Water and Mars

24th August 2018 | Places
ESA Water and Mars

Water and Mars MARSIS

Just before we have a look at water and Mars:

For those readers who loved Milijun the sequel has started, which means that Laura and Jason’s alien adventures are continuing.

Here’s a Link to the draft prologue – https://claytongraham.com.au/masterminding-milijun/

Water and Mars

Recently researchers have found good evidence for the presence of water on Mars. Whilst it was always a distinct possibility because of the presence of the polar ‘ice caps’, I must admit that shades of Martian canals of the late 19th and early 20th century sprang immediately to mind.  I think we all expect that such news will be announced by NASA but in this case it was an Italian team, part of ESA, which made the finding.

The discovery was made using MARSIS, a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter. Prof Roberto Orosei from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, who led the study, said it was unlikely to be a large lake.

Unfortunately, MARSIS wasn’t able to determine how thick the layer of water might be, but it is estimated at a minimum of one metre.

The lake sits under the planet’s south polar ice cap, and is about 20km (12 miles) across. Depth is estimated at around 1.5 kilometres below the surface.

Here’s a useful link for further reading: ASTRONOMY

How do they know?

The study used data from ground penetrating radar that has already contributed to the story of water on Mars, with its readings suggesting basins and other features indicating oceans once existed there.

The researchers looked at data from 2012 and 2015 covering an area of Mars adjacent to its geographic south pole. Although this area “does not exhibit any peculiar characteristics,” it has been theorized for decades that the polar ice caps may hide liquid water deposits.

It is surmised that surface ice insulates inner layers from the sub-freezing surface temperatures, and that the pressure exerted by millions of tons of ice and rock would substantially lower the melting point of water so that it remains liquid even at several degrees below zero Celsius. Also, minerals mixed into the water and making it briny can further lower its melting point, and these minerals or salts (sodium, magnesium, and calcium) are known to exist in Martian soil.

What about life?

The discovery will certainly interest those studying the possibilities for life beyond Earth – though it does not yet raise the stakes in the search for biology. While its existence provides a tantalizing prospect for those interested in the possibility of past or present life on Mars, the lake’s characteristics must first be verified by further research.

The water’s temperature and chemistry could also pose a problem for any potential Martian organisms.

“It’s plausible that the water may be an extremely cold, concentrated brine, which would be pretty challenging for life,” explains Dr Claire Cousins, an astrobiologist from the University of St Andrews, UK.

LIFE ON MARS.

Summary

A sample of this water would be great, but at the depth estimated – 1.5 kilometres – that is not going to happen anytime soon. No doubt the search will continue for more accessible areas of water which may be more readily accessed and tested.  However, as far as extra-terrestrial life is concerned, I believe it is a major find. We know from studies on Earth that life at the microbial level is extremely tenacious. Try this link: MICROBIAL LIFE.

Whatever next?

As I wrote this blog scientists were getting excited about the detection of methane on Mars. This is definitely a topic for a future blog. Martian cows anyone?

 

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