Huge ice sheets discovered on Mars could mean human exploration of the planet is closer than scientists had thought. (Science Photo Library RF/Getty Images)
Scientists believe the ice layers and water are the result of accumulated snow.
By Alexa Lardieri / 01.12.2018
Large sheets of ice have been discovered just below Mars’ surface, leading scientists to speculate that human astronauts could have access to an almost unlimited supply of water on the planet, according to a report published Friday in the journal Science.
Scientists have long known that the planet contained water below its surface, but how much water was a mystery. The water lies just underground and extends about 300 feet down, appearing in distinct layers that could provide insight into Mars’ past climate. It could also be “a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” according to the study.
Future Martian explorers may have a more accessible supply of water thanks to a new discovery from our Mars Orbiter: Eight sites of thick, relatively pure water ice deposits, likely accumulated as snow long ago, have been found on the Red Planet. Details: https://t.co/fE16INLoae pic.twitter.com/bITL6PdfjD
— NASA (@NASA) January 11, 2018
“Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need,” one of the report’s authors, Shane Byrne of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona told NBC News.
A team of 12 scientists, including Byrne, used data and 3-D images gathered from two orbiting spacecrafts to examine eight locations where erosion on the planet had occurred. The data revealed cliffs mostly composed of ice water, slowly sublimating as they are exposed to the atmosphere.
“This is a new window into ground ice on Mars,” Colin Dundas, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist who co-authored the report told National Geographic.
The ice, located at the northern and southern hemispheres of Mars – roughly equal to Earth’s tip of South America or Scotland – is likely the result of accumulated snowfall that compacted into layered ice, according to NASA.
The most exciting part of the discovery, the authors agreed, was the potential the ice layers and water have for making human exploration of the planet possible.
“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.
Abbud-Madrid was not involved in this report. However, he was involved in a 2016 NASA study that found ice yields more water per scoop than minerals – the previous method scientists believed would be used to obtain water on the planet. And if ice on Mars is just a few feet below the surface, sending astronauts to the planet may be more achievable than scientists previously thought.