Mars ice could sustain human outposts

The sites of exposed ice are located on steep slopes, or "scarps", in Mars' midlatitudes.

As reported in the journal Science (paywall), the water was found in both the north and south of Mars, at latitudes equivalent to South America and Scotland.

The newer Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mapped the surface in greater detail. Some of the deposits are just one meter below the surface, while others extends up to 100 meters deep.

The discovery is particularly exciting for future human exploration of the planet previously renowned for its dry arid landscape.

If the ice deposits are capable of supporting human life, there is a good chance it could indicate whether alien life might exist below the surface of Mars as well.

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Thick deposits cover broad regions of the Martian mid-latitudes with a smooth mantle; erosion in these regions creates scarps that expose the internal structure of the mantle. Their lower reaches were covered in rubble, making it hard to determine the total thickness of any ice deposits. The ice-harboring areas sport few craters, suggesting they're quite young, geologically speaking, the researchers said.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. Under its reddish layer of dirt lie 300 ft. thick sheets of ice. That's thick enough for the orbiting camera to resolve different colored bands within the material. They're capped with a layer of rock and dust that's been cemented with ice. The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice. Here on Earth, ice cores drilled from the polar regions and places like Greenland provide invaluable insights into the history of the climate, so the ice sheets on Mars are likely to be just as useful as time capsules of the Red Planet's past. The researchers estimate that this is causing the loss of about a millimeter a year, which suggests that the ice sheets were once considerably larger than they are today. But of course it's hard to confirm the identity of the layers seen in radar echoes, and the instrument doesn't have the resolution to figure out how close the ice might be to the surface beyond "less than 20 meters".

We've known for years that there is at least some water ice on Mars, but it's been hard to pin down where it is and how easy it would be to extract. These findings further strengthened scientists' belief that there are water reserves locked underground on the red planet.

"There've been suggestions that, when there's high obliquity, the poles get heated a lot-they're tilted over and pointed more at the sun, and so that redistributes ice toward the midlatitudes", Colin Dundas, of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona told Wall of

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