Scientists have discovered significant amounts of water in the form of ice on Mars. It was known previously that there was ice under the surface but to have found it so close to the surface is a huge discovery. The discovery was made using the HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Eight such locations were found where banks or cliffs had been eroded away and exposed huge cross-sections of ice were exposed. Some of the places had ice even as thick as 100 meters and began only a couple of meters below the surface.
It was further discovered that the ice was layered and was not too dissimilar to the layers found on Earth. This is an exciting prospect as it could be the key to showing us different geological periods in the history of Mars, the same way segments of ice from the North Pole tell us about the history of Earth.
“This gives us a much more detailed window into the vertical structure of some Martian ice sheets, and shows that they have only a thin debris cover and in some cases fine layers,” said Dundas, the leader of the team who discovered the sheets. “The key point is that there are layered ice sheets on Mars that can be quite shallowly buried.”
The discovered ice sheets are steeply angled. This suggests that the ice is strong and a lack of craters indicate that the ice is less than a million years old. Huge portions of rock have fallen from some sections of the ice. This shows that the ice is retreating by a few millimeters each year. This is due to sublimation as ice directly turns into vapors in the low-pressure environment.
This could be huge for future explorers on Mars and only 3% of the surface has been imaged so far. There is no telling what the other 97% might reveal. The team behind the discovery wrote, “This ice… is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet’s habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration.”