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Multiple sites rich in water ice found on Mars

13 January 2018

However, in a game-changing development, scientists have discovered huge ice sheets on Mars and they believe that it could provide an unlimited supply of water for the humans.

However, some of it stayed behind, transforming into ice that settled under the rocky surface.

The surface of the planet had been mapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in much detail and Dundas and his colleagues used its pictures to locate exposed ice in small craters, glaciers and ice sheets. A study published Thursday by the journal Science contends this is a "game changer" for future human outposts.

A team of scientists, led by Colin Dundas, a geologist at the US Geological Survey, analyzed data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), specifically looking at eight areas where erosion occurred. The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice, capped by a layer one to two yards (or meters) thick of ice-cemented rock and dust. The 3D images were studied by scientists using the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

A radar instrument on the MRO previously detected signatures of thick, buried ice across the planet's belly, however, this latest study indicates a greater prevalence of Martian ice. This discovery came from spotting the edges of these deposits, which are eroding away to form tall cliffs that expose the ice to the thin Martian air.

Scientists now want to seek out similar cliffs closer to the equator, hoping that the next surprise awaiting them is the discovery of ice nearer to the tropics. The sites are in both northern and southern hemispheres of Mars, at latitudes from about 55 to 58 degrees, equivalent on Earth to Scotland or the tip of South America.

One of the co-authors of the study, planetary scientist Shane Byrne, said: "Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface".

The ice contains bands and colour variations that suggest it was formed layer by layer, perhaps as snow accumulated over time, leading to ice sheets. Scientists have raised the possibility that the thick ice sheets could become potential accessible source of water for future scientific exploration and visit to Mars.

"Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need", said co-author Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson. It will also help NASA and other agencies plan upcoming rover and human missions to Mars.

Multiple sites rich in water ice found on Mars