Remains of a modern glacier near Mars’ equator have been found. The finding implies water ice is possibly present at low latitudes on the Red Planet…even today.
The announcement comes from the now-in-session 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference being held in The Woodlands, Texas.
Scientists at the gathering revealed the discovery of a relict glacier near Mars’ equator.
“This discovery raises the possibility that ice may still exist at shallow depths in the area, which could have significant implications for future human exploration. This discovery suggests that Mars’ recent history may have been more watery than previously thought, which could have implications for understanding the planet’s habitability,” explains a press statement from the SETI Institute.
“What we’ve found is not ice, but a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic features of a glacier. What we think happened here is that salt formed on top of a glacier while preserving the shape of the ice below, down to details like crevasse fields and moraine bands,” said Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, and the lead author of the study.
The glacier is estimated to be 4 miles (6 kilometers) long and up to 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide. This finding suggests that Mars’ recent history may have been more watery than previously thought. If so, the discovery could have implications for understanding the planet’s habitability.
If there is still water ice preserved at shallow depths at a low latitude on Mars, there would be implications for science and human exploration.
“The desire to land humans at a location where they might be able to extract water ice from the ground has been pushing mission planners to consider higher latitude sites,” Lee adds. “But the latter environments are typically colder and more challenging for humans and robots. If there were equatorial locations where ice might be found at shallow depth, then we’d have the best of both environments: warmer conditions for human exploration and still access to ice.”
Lee cautions, however, that more work still needs to be done.
“We now have to determine if, and how much, water ice might actually be present in this relict glacier, and whether other light-toned deposits might also have, or have had, ice-rich substrates,” Lee concludes.
“Identifying adequate and accessible water-ice reserves enables the identification of candidate sites for potential scientific discoveries worthy of sending humans. It also enables the identification of water-ice
resources to meet human operational needs on the Martian surface,” as noted in the final report of the International Mars Ice Mapper (I-MIM) mission concept.