Scientists may have found liquid water on Mars

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A screengrab from animation of the Martian poles with ice caps. That could change in the future, but for now we'll all just have to wonder.

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

The discovery of liquid water just beneath the surface of Mars confirms a long-suspected theory, but could it hold life?

Italian researchers using radar to probe the planet's polar ice caps have detected a lake of liquid water under the Martian ice, stretching 20 kilometers across, according to the study. In 2020, the European Space Agency plans to send a rover to Mars that will search for more evidence of the presence of water or life.

The Italian Space Agency believes it's found a 20km wide underground lake of liquid water locked under thick ice near the planet's south pole.

But until now evidence from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, MARSIS, the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet, remained inconclusive.

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Because water could not be detected on the surface, scientists began to explore underground evidence of water. Credits: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State University, ESA, INAF.

The supposed lake was discovered using radar technology on the Mars Express spacecraft which relayed data between mid-2012 and late 2015.

Another ground-penetrating radar is aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, called SHARAD, which is short for "shallow radar".

For example, they considered that there could be a carbon dioxide or water ice layer within the zone that could affect the reflections, but this was rejected "because of the very specific and unlikely physical conditions required, or because they do not cause sufficiently strong basal reflections", the researchers wrote Science paper stated. An underground lake was found near here. Unless, that is, one could somehow peer deep beneath its frigid surface to the base of the ice cap some 1.5 kilometers below, where a lake of liquid water almost three times larger than the island of Manhattan may lurk. Mixed within the water might be salt or mud, which would keep it from freezing.

So, how did MARSIS find this lake? But it'd require a far more involved drilling operation to reach the feature identified in the radar readings. These penetrate its surface but bounce back when they hit a boundary between different materials, such as ice and bedrock.

Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars. The radar cross section has been tilted 90°.

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This finding makes it more likely that there will be "not just extinct life but extant life", he says. Planetary scientists have debated for decades whether the Red Planet has liquid water, usually discussing the possible presence of small amounts that quickly appear and disappear, but the new discovery suggests Mars has a large, standing reservoir of water.

The subsurface lake could be similar to Antarctica's Lake Vostok, or to the subsurface seas thought to exist on the Jovian moon Europa or the Saturnian moon Enceladus.

This discovery of a salty subsurface lake, on an object much closer to the Sun, and much larger than a moon, is even bigger news.

"But we do not know for sure if it is inhabited".

Astronomers have previously discovered water-ice and seasonal liquid water on Mars.

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