Salty Lake, Ponds Likely Underneath Mars’ Frozen South Pole, Scientists Find

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Mars - Sputnik International
A group of Italian scientists recently revealed that they discovered a “complex” network of salty bodies of water underneath the surface of Mars’ South Pole, a finding which has given new energy to the possibility of life on the red planet.

The findings, which were published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, offer additional insight into work done by the group of researchers two years prior that provided evidence to support the presence of an underground saltwater lake on the distant planet.

At the time, the 2018 study was initially met with skepticism by others in the scientific community - largely because the finding itself was only based on 29 observations that were made from 2012 to 2015.

However, the team's most recent findings are based on a much broader data set. In their second review of Mars, the researchers examined 134 radar observations conducted through Mars Express from 2010 to 2019. 

The team, led by Sebastian Emanuel Laro of Roma Tre University, used the Mars Express orbiter’s radar instrument to determine what kind of material might be present at an examined site, such as rock, ice or water. The technique is similar to how scientists identify subsurface glacial lakes on Earth.

Ultimately, the method proved a success for the team.

The latest study notes that the subterranean lake they previously identified is roughly 1 mile below Mars’ icy surface and measures between 12 miles and 18 miles across. Additionally, researchers found evidence to support the presence of three small nearby ponds that vary in size and are separated from the lake by dry strips of land.

“We identified the same body of water, but we also found three other bodies of water around the main one,” Elena Pettinelli, a planetary scientist and one of the paper’s co-authors, said in a statement. “It’s a complex system.”

Mars, which 4 billion years ago was a warm and wet planet similar to the current Earth, has long piqued the interest of scientists regarding the possibility of life on the red planet, with efforts from the Italian research team only bolstering that hypothesis even more.

The team noted that the hypersaline conditions of the bodies of water were likely what was keeping them from freezing, considering the surface temperature at Mars’ South Pole is an estimated negative 172 degrees Fahrenheit.

The study states that the “possibility of extended hypersaline water bodies on Mars is particularly exciting because of the potential for the existence of microbial life.” However, the research ultimately calls for future missions to Mars to focus on the South Pole region so as to obtain more information on its habitability.

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