Vast glaciers hide water on Mars

Vast glaciers of water ice have been discovered buried on Mars, NASA revealed today. The find could provide vital supplies for manned missions.

Hellas is the light oval basin at the bottom of this imageScientists were surprised to find the ice buried under rocky debris much closer to the martian equator than they expected.

Previous underground ice was found in the polar regions of the red planet. Now an orbiting spaceprobe called Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found buried glaciers extending for many miles from the edges of mountains and cliffs in middle latitudes.

They are being compared to massive ice glaciers that have been detected under rocky coverings in Antarctica.

The discovery is revealed in the journal Science. Lead author John Holt, of Texas University, said: “Altogether, these glaciers almost certainly represent the largest reservoir of water ice on Mars that is not in the polar caps.

“Just one of the features we examined is three times larger than the city of Los Angeles and up to half a mile thick. And there are many more.

“In addition to their scientific value, they could be a source of water to support future exploration of Mars.”

NASA used a radar instrument built in Italy on the probe to find the buried ice. The rocky covering stopped the water from evaporating into space.

Holt and 11 colleagues report the buried glaciers lie in the Hellas Basin region of Mars’ southern hemisphere. The radar also has detected similar-appearing aprons extending from cliffs in the northern hemisphere.

Earlier evidence suggests that oceans covered Mars billions of years ago but the water was lost undergound or vaporised.

Picture: The Hellas Basin is the light oval region at the bottom of the image above. (Photo: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team).

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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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