Vast stocks of ice at Martian pole

A European spaceprobe has discovered huge quantities of water ice around Mars’s south pole, Nasa revealed tonight. Ground-penetrating radar aboard the Mars Express spacecraft shows there is enough ice to cover the entire planet with a sea of water 36ft deep.

Marsis image of south polar regionThe astonishing finding was made by an instrument called MARSIS – the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding – that can see more than two miles below the surface.

It made measurements of more than 300 slices through layered deposits covering the south pole of the Red Planet. The experiment aboard Mars Express was jointly built by Nasa and the Italian Space Agency.

Jeffrey Plaut of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, said: “The south polar layered deposits of Mars cover an area bigger than Texas. The amount of water they contain has been estimated before, but never with the level of confidence this radar makes possible.” The scientists’ findings are published online this week in the online edition of the journal Science.

Layers of ice at the poles hold most of the known water on modern Mars, though other areas of the planet appear to have been very wet at times in the past. Understanding the history and fate of water on Mars is a key to studying whether Mars has ever supported life, since all known life depends on liquid water.

In December, Nasa announced major evidence that liquid water is still flowing on Mars. The image shows the thickness of the south polar layered deposits.

Picture: Nasa/JPL/ASI/ESA/Univ. of Rome/MOLA Science Team/USGS

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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