Italian Space Agency has announced that a body of liquid water has been detected on Mars for the first time. What Researchers believe to be a lake sits under the planet’s south polar ice cap, and is about 20km across.
The researchers said it could take years to verify whether something is actually living in this body of water that resembles a subglacial lake on Earth. A probe could perhaps be undertaken through a future mission drilling through the ice to sample the water below.
“This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist,” said planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science.
“This kind of environment is not exactly your ideal vacation, or a place where fish would swim,” added Orosei. “But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments. There are micro-organisms on Earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.”
The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft that transmits radar pulses which penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps.
“It took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water,” said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency, during the research.
Previous research found possible signs of intermittent liquid water flowing on the Martian surface, but this is the first sign of a persistent body of water on the planet in the present day.
Lake beds like those explored by Nasa’s Curiosity rover show water was present on the surface of Mars in the past. However, the planet’s climate has since cooled due to its thin atmosphere, leaving most of its water locked up in ice.