The underground ice has gradually been exposed by erosion, with researchers detecting it at depths ranging from two to more than 100 metres below the Martian surface. These scarps are thought to be formed by a process called sublimation, where ice is lost to the atmosphere by transformation into water vapor without ever turning into liquid. "If the conclusions of the paper are correct", he said, "you're looking at something that's nearly pure ice".
The rust-colored world is known for its oxidized look, but if you dig down into the dirt, Mars gets a lot more interesting.
The latitudes were the equivalent on Earth of Scotland or the tip of South America.
These visible ice sheets are likely just a small representative of the total water ice on Mars. "The presence of banding and color variations suggest layers", they argue, "possibly deposited with changes in the proportion of ice and dust under varying climate conditions".
The bands of ice first appear between three and six feet underground, supporting the notion that Mars's mid-latitudes periodically saw large snowfalls millions of years ago, when Mars was tilted on its axis at a steeper angle than it is today, says Dundas.
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"Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you". But of course it's hard to confirm the identity of the layers seen in radar echoes, and the instrument doesn't have the resolution to figure out how close the ice might be to the surface beyond "less than 20 meters".
In other words, the prospect of a number of glaciers of pure ice just below the surface of Mars is a big deal because they could function as both wells and fueling stations for future human activity. "You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need". "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".
Scientists have not determined how these particular scarps initially form. The slopes are probably being continuously exposed as the ice sublimates into the Martian atmosphere, likely to cycle up to the poles and end up frozen there. The ice has a progression of layers, says Colin Dundas, a planetary geologist at the U.S. Land Survey and the paper's lead creator.
Here's how it works on Mars: When the planet is farther from the sun in its orbit, and it snows, that snow remains on the surface and becomes a buildup of ice.
A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground. And we need water ice on Mars because we can combine it with the Carbon dioxide that's very abundant in the atmosphere, and that gives us two very important things for future manned habitability of Mars. The regions will also make it much easier to get samples for learning about Mars' climate history. When does it recede?'