The lake was found using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the Mars Express spacecraft, which was launched by the European Space Agency in June 2003 and arrived at Mars in December 2003, researchers said in a statement.
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An Italian team made the discovery analysing a radar survey that was done between 2012 and 2015 by the Mars Express orbiter spacecraft.
"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", says Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science today.
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Several years into the mission, MARSIS scientists began to see small, bright echoes under the south polar ice cap-so bright that the reflection could indicate not just rock underlying the ice, but liquid water.
The body of water appears similar to underground lakes found on Earth in Greenland and Antarctica.
"There's nothing special about this location other than the MARSIS radar on the Mars Express spacecraft is most sensitive to that region meaning there are likely similar water deposits below the ground all across Mars", said Duffy.
We discovered water on Mars. For example, a radar wave that travels through rock will reflect the penetrating pulses back to the antenna more quickly than those that travel through water.
To be clear, there's no sign of any actual Martian microbes swimming around, and the environment is not obviously hospitable - the water at the base of the polar cap is estimated to be minus-90 degrees F, far below the typical freezing point of water.
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Between 2012 and 2015, the team obtained 29 radar samples and used them to map the subsurface almost one mile deep in the area and about a dozen miles wide.
However, while the find is tantalizing for astrobiologists eager to find alien life, it's also a bit of a tease.
However, other experts have yet to confirm the study's findings. Orosei suspects that salts, especially the perchlorates that have been found in the planet's soils, could be lowering the ice's melting point.
"We have long since known that the surface of Mars is inhospitable to life as we know it, so the search for life on Mars is now in the subsurface", Manish Patel from the Open University said. "This is very big news for astrobiology on Mars", said NASA's McKay. They can not see the bottom with existing equipment, but they estimate it is at least three feet deep, otherwise they would not have detected it at all.
The radar brightness alone isn't enough to prove that liquid water is responsible.
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