There’s evidence of a lake beneath the surface of Mars

There’s evidence of a lake beneath the surface of Mars

A water pond spotted beneath the surface of Mars marks a turning point in the search for life on the red planet, scientists say.

"We don't see the same reflector with SHARAD, not even when we recently summed together [thousands] of observations to create CATSCAN-like 3-D views of both polar caps", Nathaniel Putzig, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter SHARAD deputy team leader and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said in an email. Still, this doesn't mean life couldn't exist within the lake.

"Water is there. We have no more doubt", co-author Enrico Flamini, the Italian space agency's Mars Express mission manager, told a press conference.

Previous discoveries have only been around temporary trickles of water and so to have found a massive reservoir of liquid hidden underground has been hailed a stunningly incredible result.

But dissolved salts of magnesium, calcium, and sodium - known to be present in Martian rocks - are thought to maintain the briny miniature sea by reducing the melting point of water to minus 74C.

Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface.

Scientists are eager to find signs of contemporary water, because such discoveries are key to unlocking the mystery of whether life ever formed on Mars in its ancient past, and whether it might persist today.

The discovery, which has major implications for the chances of life surviving on the Red Planet, was made by an orbiting European probe using ground-penetrating radar.

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For this water to remain in a liquid state, the team believes that there are various salts saturating the liquid, keeping it from freezing over.

"This is certainly not a very pleasant environment for life", he said.

These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface".

"I really have no other explanation", said study lead author Roberto Orosei of Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna.

Researchers said they are not sure how far down it goes, but that it may be around three feet (one meter) deep.

However, Stillman, who was not involved in the research, said another spacecraft, or other instruments, need to be able to confirm the discovery. But there hasn't been evidence of stable bodies of water until now, the researchers said. "In fact, SHARAD cannot penetrate through the ice here and no one understands why it can't", Stillman said.

The lake is believed to lay underneath the surface of Mars's southern pole and stretches approximately 20km across.

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