Two years ago, astronomersof a large lake under a thick layer of ice at the south pole of Mars. Now, scientists have confirmed that by finding and detecting three new underground lakes in the same area, they believe there could be many more.
A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, further confirms the 2018 discovery, extending that discovery to three new ponds in the surrounding region. The researchers used radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, studying a dataset of 134 observations between 2012-2019.
To detect the lakes, a radar instrument on Mars Express sent radio waves to the red planet̵
The high reflectivity found by the team of researchers suggests that there are large masses of liquid water trapped below the surface.
“The possibility of large hypersaline water bodies on Mars is particularly exciting because of the potential for microbial life to exist,” the team said. “Future missions to Mars should target this region to acquire experimental data in relation to the basal hydrological system, its chemistry and traces of astrobiological activity.”
The largest lake found measures approximately 19 miles in diameter and is surrounded by several smaller ponds. Researchers believe the water is salty, which allows it to remain liquid even in the freezing temperatures of Mars.
A very high salt content could mean that there is no life present.
“There is not a lot of active life in these brackish pools in Antarctica,” John Priscu, an environmental scientist at Montana State University in Bozeman, whose group studies microbiology in icy environments, told Nature. “I’m just pickled. And it could be so [on Mars]. “
Scientists believe the findings point to the possibility of a much larger network of ancient underground lakes, which could be millions or even billions of years old when Mars was warmer and wetter than Earth.
Water currently cannot remain stable on the surface of Mars due to the lack of a substantial atmosphere, but the presence of liquid water on Mars means that there is a potential for life. Subglacial lakes allow researchers to examine how life can survive in extreme environments, but reaching them is incredibly difficult because they are buried a mile under a layer of ice.
“There may have been a lot of water on Mars,” said study co-author Elena Pettinelli, a planetary scientist at the University of Rome. “And if there was water, there was a chance to live.”
But not everyone is convinced by the data. Mike Sori, a planetary geophysicist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, told Nature: “If the luminous material is indeed liquid water, I think it is more likely to represent some sort of mud or slime.”