Space exploration: The land of Mars contains huge amounts of ice, revealed by the Mars Express probe

Space exploration: The land of Mars contains huge amounts of ice, revealed by the Mars Express probe

European satellite instruments have made it possible to identify real glaciers beneath the barren soil of the Red Planet. Potential resources for future human missions.

Barren and dusty, would Mars be a blue planet instead of red, if its climate change had not decided otherwise? The question is a bit exaggerated, but in fact, large amounts of water ice have been identified by scientists in one area, which is… Medusae Fossae formationsWhich has interested them for fifteen years.

According to the information I provided today, ThursdayEuropean Space Agency (European Space Agency), deposits observed at the end of the 2000s near the Martian equator, the nature of which was not known, are actually composed of water ice. Ice at such volumes, notes the European Space Agency, that “If it melts”she “The entire planet will be covered in a layer of water 1.5 to 2.7 meters deep.” And it will be enough, on the ground, “to fill the Red Sea”.

Why did all this water disappear?

These elements were obtained thanks to the European probe's Marses radar measurements Mars Express It was launched in 2003, and was analyzed by American Thomas Waters, from the Smithsonian Institution, and Andrea Cicchetti, from the Smithsonian Institution.National Institute of Astrophysics Italian. They are both authors of an article published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The two men also determined the high thickness – up to 3.7 km – of these glacial deposits, which overcome “A protective layer of dry dust or ash up to hundreds of meters thick.”Space agency indicates.

Layers of water ice observed by the Mars Express orbiter's radar.
European Space Agency – Mars Express

The presence of water on a planet with negative average temperatures is not an absolute discovery. It is present in the polar caps, in large quantities in the Arctic, less under the crust of Antarctica, and even in trace amounts in the atmosphere of Mars. Another European probe, Exomars TGO is also working to map this buried resource and we now know that water flowed to the planet's surface. NASA's Perseverance rover has been traveling for three years at the mouth of an ancient river.

The Exo Mars TGO is specifically focused on detecting traces of water in the Martian atmosphere.

The Exo Mars TGO is specifically focused on detecting traces of water in the Martian atmosphere.
European Space Agency

Ice is essential for human exploration

But the discovery of this huge reservoir, at the equator, raises many questions for scientists. Why did the water disappear from its surface, and was it found buried beneath it? “What happened to the huge amount of water that was flowing on this planet?”astrophysicist Bruno Bizard asks, in An article published by the National Center for Scientific Research. “When did these icy deposits form and what did Mars look like at that time?”asks Colin Wilson, ESA's science lead for Mars Express.

Perseverance and its small drone Ingenuity have been surveying an ancient river delta for nearly three years.

Perseverance and its small drone Ingenuity have been surveying an ancient river delta for nearly three years.
NASA

Beyond these questions, beyond the search for traces of life that Perseverance is particularly focused on and which will be the subject of the Mars sample return at the end of the decade — the return of samples collected by the rover to Earth — human exploration of the planet is directly interested in discovering these water reserves, as we see in European Space Agency. “Missions to Mars should land near the planet’s equator.”This is for reasons related to the ease of landing and moderate temperatures. But it will be so “Away from ice-rich polar caps or glaciers in high latitudes. And you would need water as a resource. So finding ice in this region is almost a necessity for human missions.” Even if this warehouse was buried deep, it would not be easy to exploit it.

An incredibly detailed image of Mars taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, from the north polar ice cap, to the cloud covered Hellas Planitia in the south, the largest impact crater on Mars.

?: ESA/DLR/FO Berlin pic.twitter.com/zi7ST5w6Qj

– Wonder of Science (@wonderofscience) November 15, 2023

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