Major ice deposits have been discovered on Mars, exposed along slopes up to 100 meters tall, close to the middle latitudes of the planet, far from the harsh environment of its polar caps. It is well known that beneath roughly a third of the surface of Mars lays a shallow layer of ice but the recent discovery of thick ice beneath and on the planet’s surface bodes well for sustaining human outposts in the near future.
Nasa’s Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying the Red Planet’s environment since 2006, and while ice has been discovered around the middle latitude it’s never breached the surface. The new discovery of large, thick and exposed ice deposits will allow for the establishment of permanent settlements, as the water could be converted into oxygen. “Humans need water wherever they go and it’s very heavy to carry with you”, said planetary scientist Shane Byrne. “Previous ideas for extracting human-usable water from Mars were to pull it from the very dry atmosphere or to break down water-containing rocks. Here we have what we think is almost pure water ice buried just below the surface. You don’t see a high-tech solution, you can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need”.
The deposits reside at seven different locations called scarps – very steep slopes (some of which reaching 55 degree inclines) – six of which are in the southern hemisphere and one is in the northern hemisphere, locations close to where NASA space vehicles are likely to land. This means that settlers won’t have to stray far from their bases and into the harsh environment of the polar caps to gather water.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS