Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Sports | By Spencer Underwood

USGS: Ice Sheets on Mars Hint at Past Snowfall

USGS: Ice Sheets on Mars Hint at Past Snowfall

However, once the buried ice becomes exposed to Mars' atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it "retreats", due to sublimation of the ice directly from solid form into water vapor. The scientists who tend that instrument spotted patches of blue on the red planet, made a decision to look more closely and eventually found eight patches of ice.

NASA's Phoenix lander had also dug up some ice near the Martian north pole in 2008, however, it is not clear if that is part of the big sheet.

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

"These shallow depths make the ice sheets potentially accessible to future exploration", the authors wrote, "and the scarps present cross-sections of these ices that record past episodes of ice deposition on Mars". Such reserves could help researchers tease out the planet's history, and dramatically improve the feasibility of any potential colonies on Mars. They were found at mid-latitudes (roughly the Martian equivalent of Canada or the UK) and occupied poleward-facing slopes. But details about the thickness of the ice, its composition and its layering have been hard to gauge-until now.

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.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. Some of the deposits are under just one or two meters of dirt. Such details suggest ice layers with different proportions of ice and dust that could have formed under varying climate conditions.

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Researchers broke the news in a journal report published Thursday, revealing the ice sheets they found just below the surface extend about 300 feet down and could explain much about the planet's past climate.

For the first time, high-resolution images show the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars. It turned out he was looking at steep cliffs almost 330 feet (100 m) tall with exposed ice.

The underground ice's existence was known to NASA thanks to its previous work with its Mars Odyssey orbiter, MRO's ground-penetrating radar, plus the ESA's Mars Express orbiter.

The likelihood that any of the eight glacial cliffs seen so far will one day support a year-round Martian base aren't great because they're all still at high enough latitudes that the winters would be quite dim and chilly.

That also means the ice is a lot more accessible than previously thought.

It has been known for some time that some locations on Mars have water ice just below the surface - but until now, there has been no accurate way to know just how much.

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