NASA Finds Vast Deposits of Ice Just Under Martian Surface

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Over the years, MRO has built up a comprehensive catalog of features on the Martian surface, many of them imaged from multiple angles.

NASA scientists used HiRISE, a powerful camera installed on its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to make the discovery of the ice in the faces of eroding slopes. A few years ago, the $720 million spacecraft returned images and data that showed a pale sliver of blue amid the terracotta-colored dust.

Dundas subsequently found the same structures at seven other sites on Mars.

"These ice cliffs [are] very accessible". Both NASA and the European Space Agency are due to send rovers to Mars in 2020, which are equipped with radar and drill technologies that can explore beneath the surface of the Red Planet. Researchers explain that regions like this may mean frozen water will be more easily accessible to humans and robots than previously anticipated.

Buried glaciers have been spotted on Mars, in a "game changing" development that could provide unlimited water for the first human visitors to the red planet.

Another study had scientists concerned that the soil itself doesn't contain much water, but that may not be as much of an issue if it's abundant in ice form just below the surface. "Our research may be useful information but it will be up to them to determine how to use it".

These underground cliffs appear 'to be almost pure ice, ' say the researchers, who analysed data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005.

Scientists point out that the hidden ice sheets could pave the way for supporting life on Mars.

The structures described in this new paper could plug those holes in our understanding. This revealed cliffs composed mostly of water ice, which is slowly sublimating as it is exposed to the atmosphere.

"We considered the possibility that we were seeing surface frost", Dundas said, "but the ice signatures persist through the summer".

"This subsurface ice could contain valuable records of the Martian climate, just like the Greenland and Antarctic ice cores", said Susan Conway, a planetary scientist at the University of Nantes in France.

Layer cake " This deep, thick, pure ice extends nearly all the way up to the surface" says co-author Ali Bramson. Such details suggest ice layers with different proportions of ice and dust that could have formed under varying climate conditions. Researchers noticed variations in the color of the ice in individual scarps, suggesting that it formed differently at different times, depending on the tilt. Winds then carried grit over each layer, sealing them apart, and creating the banding. Seven of them are pole-facing scarps (that is, steep banks or slopes) in the southern hemisphere; one is a cluster of scarps in the northern hemisphere, in Milankovic Crater.

The glaciers are also a boon for colonists.