The surface of Mars may appear barren and lifeless, but it seems the red planet is keeping quite a few secrets hidden from prying human eyes.
Luckily, we have technology – and a new radar survey of the Medusae Fossae Formation region on the Martian equator has revealed what appears to be giant layered slabs of buried water ice, several kilometers thick.
European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter has identified massive ice and ice water deposits beneath the surface of Mars. The Mars Express orbiter was also the first to confirmed the presence of ice on Mars in 2004
“We’ve seen evidence of glaciers, extinct glaciers which are no longer there, but also some glaciers covered with dust. Most of the water ice we’ve seen on Mars today is at higher latitudes, where the temperatures are colder and so the ice can be stable,” said Colin Wilson, a project scientist at ESA.
“It’s a testament to how much water there would have been on Mars in the past to amass piles of water ice several kilometres thick. That’s a vast amount of water. So, we’ve seen the evidence of lots of water on the Martian surface in other places,” Wilson added.
According to experts, this evidence suggests that Mars exhibited a vastly different environment in the past, featuring glaciers, lakes, and river channels.
The Mars Express orbiter, which initially confirmed the presence of ice on Mars in 2004, discovered these deposits in 2007. However, the composition remained unclear until now, with the latest data suggesting that the deposits consist of layers of dust and ice.
Despite the potential benefits for future exploration missions, Wilson cautioned that the layers of dust and ice are topped with a protective layer several hundred meters thick, making direct access challenging. “Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the answer to our human exploration needs,” he added.
The Mars Express probe, launched in June 2003, recently marked two decades of studying the Red Planet, providing valuable insights into Mars’ geological history & potential for sustaining life in the distant past.