Scientists spot massive ice deposits on Mars

Peru earthquake

A map showing the location of a magnitude-7.3 earthquake off the coast of Peru

The research, using images from a Nasa spacecraft now orbiting the Red Planet, found that there are eight sites that appear to have huge ice deposits on steep slopes.

The results revealed massive subsurface ice sheets on the planet extending from just below the surface to a depth of at least 100 meters (328ft).

Scientists have long known that the surface of Mars has some shallow ground ice, and that there are major deposit at its poles.

The new Mars ice imagery were captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and subsequently studied by the scientists.

This is not the first time ice has been found on Mars.

Scientists point out that the hidden ice sheets could pave the way for supporting life on Mars. "What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before".

At this wedge-shaped pit on Mars, the steep slope (or scarp) at the northern edge (toward the top of the image) exposes a cross-section of a thick sheet of underground water ice. By combining different images together, as shown above, the composite images can reveal the subtle differences in how the surface absorbs and reflects light, and thus provide information about what makes up the surface. The researchers didn't leave this to simple colour interpretation, though. "Previous ideas for extracting human-usable water from Marswere to pull it from the very dry atmosphere or to break down water-containing rocks", said planetary scientist Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, a co-author of the study in the journal Science.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

A lander or rover sent to drill down into one of these locations could provide us with a detailed chronology of Mars' past climate, and according to Byrne, "Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need".

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