Scientists announced on Wednesday that they have detected what appears to be a sizable salt-laden lake under the ice on the southern polar plain of Mars. This body of water is a possible habitat for microbial life.
The discovery was made using a radar instrument on an orbiting spacecraft, and the location’s radar profile resembled that of subglacial lakes found beneath Earth’s Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
According to Reuters, the reservoir they detected was roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, and it was shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface This represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars.
This discovery heats up the question that troubles everyone: Does life beyond Earth exists?
Although the new findings offer alluring evidence, there is still no proof.
But because water is considered a fundamental ingredient for life, there is a big chance that some type of lifeform might be lurking beneath that ice.
The researchers said it could take years to verify whether something is actually living in this body of water that resembles a subglacial lake on 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,” Orosei added. “But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments. There are microorganisms on Earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.”
Reuters reported that 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.
“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 dry lake beds and river valleys on Mars surface show us that the planet long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water.
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.
Although the water in the Martian lake was below the normal freezing point, remained liquid because of high levels of salts.
Orosei said that if others are detected and a network of subglacial lakes exists like on Earth, that could mean that liquid water has existed for millions of years or even dating back to 3-1/2 billion years ago when Mars was a more hospitable planet.
The question would be, Orosei added, whether any life forms that could have evolved long ago on Mars have found a way to survive until now.
“Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form,” Orosei said.