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Newly discovered layers of ice buried a mile beneath Mars' north pole are the remnants of ancient polar ice sheets and could be one of the largest water reservoirs on the planet, according to scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona.

The team made the discovery using measurements gathered by the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). SHARAD emits radar waves that can penetrate up to a mile and a half beneath the surface of Mars.

The findings, published May 22 in Geophysical Research Letters, are important because the layers of ice are a record of past climate on Mars in much the same way that tree rings are a record of past climate on Earth. Studying the geometry and composition of these layers could tell scientists whether climate conditions were previously favorable for life, researchers said. The team found layers of sand and ice that were as much as 90% water in some places.

If melted, the newly discovered polar ice would be equivalent to a global layer of water around Mars at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep.

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Category: Science