Erosion reveals steep slopes hiding massive ice deposits on Mars

Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars

Planetary scientists say a new analysis of data shows that thick ice sheets hide just below parts of the surface of Mars

Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey is lead author of the study. "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", explains NASA on their website.

The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers. However, ice does reside below the surface. "Our research may be useful information but it will be up to them to determine how to use it".

Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, has also discussed plans for private manned missions to Mars. As they continue scanning the surface of Mars for other regions with ice, they hope to compare the conditions of differing regions to get a better understanding of how each spot is unique.

"The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice", Byrne said.

"And it also provides an opportunity I'd say in the exploration of Mars to use this water ice as a possible resource for water, for astronauts [and] for experiments".

"The ice is a critical target for science and exploration", Dundas said.

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According to Zurek, who is an MRO project scientist but did not participate in the new study, the newly-identified sites with water-ice are in the higher latitudes of Mars, meaning that sunlight and temperatures in those areas go through extreme swings throughout the year.

The "game-changing" discovery could be vital to human explorers in the future, reported the United States journal Science yesterday. That implies that the deposits built up over many seasons as layers of snow were compressed in a previous climate cycle, says Susan Conway, a planetary geologist at the University of Nantes in France.

The new study suggests that the ice built up over time, much the same way that Earth's glaciers and ice sheets came to be.

Mars clearly had a watery past, and it's expected that much of the water is still on the planet. 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.

The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars' high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice. The water could be used for drinking and potentially conversion into oxygen to breathe.

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