Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Scientists excited by discovery of ice mountain below the surface of Mars

Scientists excited by discovery of ice mountain below the surface of Mars

Mars likely held flowing water during its ancient past, possibly even vast oceans of it.

The researchers think the uncovered ice isn't steady at the generally warm surface temperatures. A probe of the scarps disclosed that the thick ice is concealed just beneath the surface.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere.

Scientists have discovered big ice sheets just below the surface of Mars. That is much shallower than what researchers have shown before. In any case, this new research, distributed today in the diary Science, uncovers key data about the ice's layering, thickness and virtue.

Scientists say that pictures from Mars demonstrate huge inclines of ice - and give an indicate how they were shaped.

These images released by NASA show the surface of Mars.


Images captured by the MRO were taken over the course of three Martian years, or about 5 years and 7 months in Earth time.

So, if these slopes still look like ice after more detailed examination, they seem like a great location to study the history of water 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". "So, what we may be seeing is evidence of that having happened in the past". The images have been enhanced so that the ice is bright blue and therefore easy to spot. It's not just the volume of water they found (it's no mystery that Mars harbors a lot of ice in these particular regions), it's how mineable it promises to be.

"It's always been hypothesized that this mantle was a mix of ice and dust based on things like its limited latitudinal extent and how it becomes increasingly eroded as you move from the poles toward the equator", Harrison told Gizmodo.

Similar to ice cores recovered from the Earth's surface, these ice sheets may preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate on Mars. Future observations should now focus on these features to confirm the findings even further. This means the frozen water could be easily minable. The space agency says the MRO found a total of eight locations where these thick ice layers are exposed, all of them on eroding slope faces.

"It's looking more encouraging that water ice could be available at depths shallow enough that could be used as resources for human missions to Mars", Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, told National Geographic. "These would make excellent candidates for human exploitation, should we ever go there". Questions remain about how the exposed regions formed, though. As Harrison pointed out, the results suggest relatively clean water, but further work is required to determine purity. The study proposes that during periods of Martian history when the planet was tilted more like 35°, and the poles were hotter than today, snow fell on Mars.

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