The find of a vast sheet of ice just inches away from the surface of Mars could provide humans seeking to colonise the Red Planet with water – breaking a decades old obstacle that has proved near-impossible to overcome. When the first astronauts land on Mars, logistical issues will result in their not being able to take all the things they need to survive.
The difficulty of transporting such huge amounts of material on one spacecraft along with a crew, and then having to rely on the arrival of a second ship some months or years later, has deterred space planners for years.
Scientists at NASA have long discussed how they would carry out such missions, making the point that there may be useable resources already on Mars.
Now, with the potential location of an oasis of frozen water confirmed, scientists can probe ahead with plans to potentially land near to the ice lake in the future.
Ahead of such missions, rovers and manned robots have searched for signs of organic life and material for years.
Orbiters and satellites have similarly looped around the planet, mapping the planet for our eventual arrival.
Now, Data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Odyssey Orbiter has been able to detect the signature of water ice beneath the surface.
Sylvain Piqueux, study author at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: “You wouldn’t need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel.
“We’re continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land.”
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Meticulous study, analysis and research has gathered that Mars was once a warm planet that could theoretically have supported life and water on its surface.
Something shook the planet up around 3.5billion years ago, causing it to lose most of its atmosphere.
Today, Mars has only a thin layer of atmosphere, allowing gases like water vapour to easily escape.
If water were to exist on the planet today it would instantly evaporate.
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Yet, water does exist on Mars: at either end of its poles and its mid-latitudes.
The polar ice region is best-known for holding a considerable quality of water since scientists imaged it.
The impact of meters has even helped researchers in understanding the condition of the polar ice, since their collision disturbs the ice, shooting it outwards and allowing scientists to observe ad take pictures.
NASA’s Phoenix Lander was even able to scrape and sample the polar ice to confirm that it was water ice in 2008.
Both orbiters have instruments on board that are sensitive to heat, which is relevant to subsurface ice as it changes surface temperature on Mars.
Researcher’s also used the Odyssey orbiter’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer to gather data that helped mapped the areas where ice could not be found.
In addition to the already acknowledged polar ice and equatorial ice, the fresh data also revealed areas where water ice may be just below the surface.
There are parts of Mars that, like the moon, are inhospitably freezing, and would kill astronauts should they attempt to venture into them.
This has made scientists quell their excitement, having to take into consideration factors such as sunlight and temperature.
The revelation has set NASA’s sights on northern and southern parts of the equatorial region more appealing, as it is here where atmospheric conditions are more favourable and can thus allow spacecraft to land more manageably due to the elevation.
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