Water is buried beneath Martian landscape, study says

A 12-mile wide lake of liquid water has been discovered below the Martian southern ice cap increasing the possibility of life on the planet

A 12-mile wide lake of liquid water has been discovered below the Martian southern ice cap increasing the possibility of life on the planet

The discovery was made using a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, which launched in 2003.

Located under a layer of Martian ice, the lake is about 20 kilometers wide, said the report led by Italian researchers in the USA journal Science.

The team from Italy studied radio echo sounding data recorded between 2012 and 2015 by the Mars Express spacecraft.

Among the 29 radar samplings, the scientists spotted a series of unusually strong reflections bearing a distinct electrical hallmark.

A water pond would suggest the presence of salts that, like on icy roads, lower the freezing point of water, he said.

But because of the thin atmosphere and the cooling of the planet, most of its water is locked up in ice.

Water is essential to life as we know it. Scientists have long sought to prove that the liquid is present on Mars.

The lake, similar to those beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets on Earth, lies about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) below the surface of a region called Planum Australe, close to the Martian south pole, and stretches out for 20 kilometres.

A few years ago, biologists found more than 3,500 unique gene sequences in Lake Vostok which had been isolated for more than 15 million years; Lake Vostok gets no sunlight with it being 4,000 metres below the ice and has a recorded temperature of -89.2c, showing life to be hardy. While previous research unearthed possible signs of "intermittent liquid water flowing" on Mars" surface, a new discovery has now braced the possibility of "extra-terrestrial life'.

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The scientists expect the water is very salty, otherwise it would freeze.

"This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability", Titov said.

The continuous white line at the top of the radar results above marks the beginning of the South Polar Layered Deposit; a filo pastry-like accumulation of water ice and dust.

"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", said Roberto Orosei, lead author of the paper and principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment. But there hasn't been evidence of stable bodies of water until now, the researchers said.

However, Stillman, who was not involved in the research, said another spacecraft, or other instruments, need to be able to confirm the discovery.

The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

Speaking with the BBC, Orosei said it probably isn't "a very large lake", but added that this is a body of water and not runoff from a glacier or something else.

Last week data were released revealing that there are organic molecules on Mars.

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