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| Last Updated:14/12/2018

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Underground lake found on Mars (Source: The Hindu 26/07/2018)

   It is the first stable body of liquid water found on the red plant and is about 20 km wide

 

Pointer to life?An artist’s impression of the Mars Express spacecraft over an actual image of Mars.AFPHANDOUT

Pointer to life?An artist’s impression of the Mars Express spacecraft over

an actual image of Mars.AFPHANDOUT

 

                    Using a radar instrument on an orbiting spacecraft, scientists have spotted what they said on Wednesday appears to be a sizeable salt-laden lake under ice on the southern polar plain of Mars, a body of water they called a possible habitat for microbial life.

 

            The reservoir they detected — roughly 20 km in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about 1.5 km beneath the ice surface — represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars. Whether anywhere other than the earth has harboured life is one of the supreme questions in science, and the new findings offer tantalizing evidence, though no proof. Water is considered a fundamental ingredient for life.

 

            The researchers said it could take years to verify whether something is actually living in this body of water that resembles a sub-glacial lake on the earth, perhaps with a future mission drilling through the ice to sample the water below. “This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist,” said planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science .

 

          “This kind of environment is not exactly your ideal vacation, or a place where fish would swim,” Mr. Orosei added. “But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments. There are microorganisms on the earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.” The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft that transmits radar pulses, which penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps.

 

Locations’s radar profile

 

                    “This took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water,” said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency during the research. The location’s radar profile resembled that of subglacial lakes found beneath Earth’s Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface.

 

               There had been some signs of liquid water currently on Mars, including disputed evidence of water activity on Martian slopes, but not stable bodies of water. Mr. Orosei said the water in the Martian lake was below the normal freezing point but remained liquid thanks in large part to high levels of salts. He estimated the water temperature at somewhere between minus 10 degrees Celsius and minus 70 degrees Celsius.