Beneath the cold surface of Mars rests thick deposits of water ice, according to a new report in Science. The new discovery sheds light on the Martian planet’s mysterious past, which scientists believe was once very different—and very wet—compared to what we see today.
Thick deposits of water ice was discovered at eight different sites, where eroding slopes, some as steep as 55 degrees, revealed Mars’s past. Scientists believe the ice was deposited there millions of years ago as snow, and eventually covered by up to two yards of ice-cemented rock and dust.
“There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars,” said Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center. “What we’ve seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before.”
In the future, scientists are hoping to study one of the eight sites, because sampling the layers could reveal a detailed climate history of Mars. Not only can we learn more about the Red Planet’s climate history, but the water ice could provide near limitless water for future robotic of human exploration missions.
“Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need,” said Shane Byrne, a co-author of the paper published in Science.
The new data was collected using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), providing a surprising glimpse into the thick underground sheets of ice.
“It’s like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what’s usually beneath the ground,” Byrne said.
Mars is seen by scientists as the next objective in human space exploration. With the potential for oceans of water beneath the planet’s surface, the prospect of one day colonizing Mars became much more exciting.