Large Underground Lake Detected Below Mars Ice Cap, Study Says

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The Italian Space Agency (ISA) says it's found the first proof of water on Mars.

An artist's conception of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars. Coloured region represents strength of ground penetrating radar reflections, with deep blue corresponding to echoes from water.

So the only realistic hope for significant amounts of liquid water is under the surface, at sufficient depth to create enough pressure to allow salt to overcome the low temperatures.

Analysis of that data had already identified a highly reflective region beneath the thickest part of the southern ice cap in an area called the Planum Australe.

Researchers analyzed radar signals collected over three years by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, which probed an area close to the Martian south pole. They also realised that the radar signature matches that of ice-capped water in Greenland and Antarctica.

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The team that wrote the study, including lead author Professor Roberto Orosei, have ruled out any other causes for the brightness.

"We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars". The radar cross section has been tilted 90°. Because it is salty, or briny, it remains in its liquid form and does not freeze.

This means that scientists can't specify whether it's an underground pool, an aquifer-like body, or just a layer of sludge.

Either way, the discovery greatly increases the chances of extraterrestrial life existing on Mars.

It appears that a body of liquid water has been found buried beneath layers of ice and dust on Mars' south pole. It is believed the planet once was home to rivers and lakes before the climate significantly changed over the course of its 4.6-billion-year history.

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It has always been suspected that the Red Planet is not as dry and arid as it looks.

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 unbelievable result. Conditions most favorable to life generally involve having liquid water available for long periods of time, he said.

Speaking in a recorded interview released by Science, Prof Orosei revealed that his team spent years checking their results before being confident enough to announce the discovery.

He said: "Magnesium, calcium, and sodium could be dissolved in the water to form a brine".

The European and Russian rover, ExoMars, is scheduled to land in 2021 and will continue the search for life. "A lake, not some kind of meltwater filling some space between rock and ice, as happens in certain glaciers on Earth", Prof Orosei added.

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"But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments".

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