Scientists have discovered "hidden water" three feet below Mars' Grand Canyon
By: April Carson
The ExoMars orbiter from the European Space Agency has discovered evidence of a substantial deposit of water beneath the Valles Marineris Martian canyon system, which is one of the Solar System's largest canyons—about five times as deep and ten times as long as the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The Trace Gas Orbiter's Fine-Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (Frend) instrument, which maps hydrogen in the uppermost metre of Mars' soil—a measure of water content—was used to make the discovery.
An area of the canyon roughly the size of the Netherlands with an extremely high concentration of hydrogen has been found, according to a study accepted for publication in Icarus.
“Considering that the hydrogen we detect is probably bound into water molecules, as much as 40 percent of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water,” Mitrofanov said.
“We can look down to one metre below this dusty layer and see what's really going on under Mars' surface—and, importantly, identify water-rich "oases" that couldn't be seen with previous equipment,” says Dr Mitrofanov.
These potential deposits, which are several kilometers below ground and more difficult to reach than any discovered just beneath the surface, raise new questions about whether Mars was ever capable of supporting life.
According to the new study, research from which this article is based on, there exists a "large, not-too-deep," "readily exploitable reservoir of water" in this region of Mars.
This could mean that, if there is life on Mars, it's more likely to be found deep below the surface than previously thought.
The news comes as NASA's Perseverance rover prepares to land on Mars later this month in search of signs of ancient life.
The rover will carry a number of instruments, including a drill, that will help scientists search for evidence of past microbial life.
The researchers believe that the ice may be packed full of water, similar to the permafrost regions on Earth, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil due to the consistent low temperatures. Valles Marineris could be just as icy.
"This is a place where if there's life on Mars, it's more likely to be found than other places," said planetary scientist Christopher Edwards of Northern Arizona University.
The Martian canyon system, which is nearly as long and deep as Earth's Grand Canyon, was carved out by water billions of years ago.
The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, looked at data recorded by the Frend instrument that scanned Mars' soil for neutrons and determined its hydrogen content. “Neutrons are produced when very energetic particles known as "galactic cosmic rays" strike Mars; dry soils emit more neutrons than wet ones, so we can infer how much water is present in a soil by looking at the number of neutrons it emits," co-author Alexey Malakhov from the Russian Academy of Sciences added.
Dr Malakhov said, “Frend's unique observing technique provides far greater spatial resolution than previous similar studies, allowing us to see water phenomena that weren't noticed previously.”
According to the researchers, the observed water deposits may be either ice or chemically bound water. However, according to previous research, minerals discovered in this section of Mars are usually just a few percent water—“significantly less than what is seen in these new findings. ”
Researchers also said that further analysis of this region's canyon was required to determine what type of water these deposits are composed of.
Due to the temperature and pressure conditions near the equator, water ice generally evaporates here on Mars, however scientists claim that the correct mix of temperature, pressure, and hydration must be present in order to prevent water loss from the area.
According to the researchers, a "special, as-yet-unclear combination of circumstances" is thought to exist in Valles Marineris to keep the water. Alternatively, they propose that the water is being replenished by an unknown process.
“This development is a fantastic first step, but we'll need additional observations to know for sure what kind of water we're dealing with," added co-author Håkan Svedhem of ESA's ESTEC in the Netherlands.
“The discovery has demonstrated the unrivaled capabilities of TGO's instruments in allowing us to 'see' beneath Mars' surface, regardless of the result,” Dr Svedhem concluded.
The new findings, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, show that there is a significant amount of water just below the Martian surface, trapped in the form of hydrated minerals. This could be a valuable resource for future missions to Mars.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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