A lake of actual water has been discovered on Mars

Image Source NASA  JPL-Caltech  MSSS  MGN

Image Source NASA JPL-Caltech MSSS MGN

"It is liquid, and it's salty, and it's in contact with rocks", according to Dr Enrico Flamini, the former chief scientist of the Italian Space Agency, who oversaw the research.

"We are not closer to actually detecting life", Dr Patel told BBC News, "but what this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars".

All of that water is either locked up in solid form, however, or locked away in the distant past.

"The fact that it's buried underneath the surface isn't a big surprise, because liquid water can not exist on the surface of Mars, it's simply not possible because of the atmospheric pressure is too thin", Enright said.

Using radar to probe the polar ice caps of Mars, scientists have detected an underground reservoir of liquid that may be saltwater and that extends for about 20 kilometers in length.

But also, the more hard it is to, because laws of planetary protection state that we can not send any craft from Earth near a potential site of life for fear of contamination.

The European Space Agency's vehicle now on Mars, "Mars Express", has found something potentially groundbreaking and quite different from all the prior findings.

These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface". Credits: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State University, ESA, INAF.

Orosei and colleagues used a radar instrument called MARSIS aboard the Mars Express spacecraft to make their discovery.

Mars' southern polar ice cap has a thickness of about 3,000 metres, reports NASA in an unrelated study, it is similar to the northern one and spreads about 400 km and it is elevated about 6 km higher than Martian sea level. However, there are [analogous organisms] on Earth, in the subglacial lakes of Antarctica.

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What they discovered was similar to ice sheets found in the Antarctic, with its brightness demonstrating that they had discovered water.

The lake was found under this ice. Until now, we knew that water exists in ice around the planet, as well as that there are signs of liquid water on the surface. "If that were to be liquid water, it would be only feasible if there will be large concentrations of salts within it".

So, how did MARSIS find this lake?

The discovery was made using a radar instrument on board the Mars Express orbiter, which works by bouncing low-frequency electromagnetic waves off the surface of the planet then analysing the data that returns. The radar reflected the feature's brightness, signaling that it's water. She says data resolution in the past was just too low.

This image provided by the ESA/INAF shows an artist's rendering of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars. The radar cross section has been tilted 90°.

Now, the ISA believes it's found a 20km wide underground lake of liquid water locked under thick ice near the planet's south pole. A part of Mars where there are underground reservoirs of liquid water would certainly be an exciting place to explore.

There is, and probably will continue to be, debate about the findings of this paper, simply because the implications of this discovery are enormous. Higher frequency radar pulses are not able to penetrate deep enough to detect the boundary between ice and liquid beneath the polar cap, and so SHARAD has been unable to detect this lake.

There is already speculation about the presence of these "extremophiles" in the salty subsurface oceans discovered inside some of the icy moons in our solar system. In the process of this systematic analysis, not only did the researchers confirm their original idea, they also showed that the water is partially saturated with sediments from the surrounding materials.

"It's probably not a very large lake".

Since humans could see through telescopes across space, Mars has been the favorite abode of imaginary life, the backyard just over the fence where astronomer Percival Lowell imagined he could see canals and even cities webbing the orange globe.

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