Washington, July 25: In a tantalising find, a team of Italian researchers on Wednesday announced they have discovered a large saltwater lake under ice near the south pole on Red Planet – raising a possibility that life may be there on Mars in some form. The lake under the Martian ice stretches 20 kms across, said the team led by Roberto Orosei from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna in a paper detailed in the prestigious journal Science. The lake is about 1.5 km beneath Mars’s surface and is at least one metre deep.
The detection was made using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. If confirmed, it would be the first confirmed news of liquid water ever detected on the Red Planet. “We discovered water on Mars,” said Orosei. In 2015, in the first-ever definitive signs of the presence of liquid water on the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured strong evidence for seasonal flows of liquid salty water on the Martian surface. In the new discovery, between May 2012 and December 2015, Orosei and colleagues used MARSIS to survey a region called Planum Australe, located in the southern ice cap of Mars. They obtained 29 sets of radar samplings, mapping out an area exhibiting a very sharp change in its associated radar signal, about 1.5 km below the surface of the ice and extending sideways about 20 km. The radar profile of this area is similar to that of lakes of liquid water found beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth, suggesting that there is a subglacial lake at this location on Mars. (IANS)