3D scans reveal huge underground ice sheets on Mars

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The images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.

"This ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration", the study says.

In other words, the prospect of a number of glaciers of pure ice just below the surface of Mars is a big deal because they could function as both wells and fueling stations for future human activity. There are very few craters in these areas, suggesting that the sheets of ice water on Mars are young in terms of geology, according to Space.com. A probe of the scarps disclosed that the thick ice is concealed just beneath the surface. They identified eight locations where erosion had exposed apparent glaciers, some of which extend 330 feet (100 meters) or more into the Red Planet's subsurface.

While scientists already knew that about a third of the surface of Mars contains shallow ground ice and that its poles harbour major ice deposits, the research published on Thursday described thick underground ice sheets exposed along slopes up to 100 yards (meters) tall at the planet's middle latitudes.

'What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before'.

A cross-section of a thick sheet of underground ice is exposed at the steep slope that appears bright blue in this
Multiple sites rich in water ice found on Mars

Analyzing these features with a filter that accentuates colors, a team of researchers saw something notable for the Red Planet: a number of them had a distinctively blue color.

"It is surprising that exposed ice has been found on the surface of these locations in mid-latitudes, which are usually covered by a layer of dust or rheology", said Dandas. "You don't see a high-tech solution", Byrne said.

Examination of some of the scarps with MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) confirmed that the bright material is frozen water.

"Here we have what we think is nearly pure water ice buried just below the surface". "You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need". Dundas and co-authors say that banding and color variations apparent in some of the scarps suggest layers "possibly deposited with changes in the proportion of ice and dust under varying climate conditions".

"If we were to send humans to live on Mars for a substantial period of time, it would be a fantastic source of water", Balme said. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips. The authors of the study theorize that the layers of ice began as snow, which compacted and hardened into ice sheets. Terrestrial ice deposits are often mined to see what lies within, so perhaps one day we'll have the chance to sample Martian ice too.

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