JAKARTA, NNC - The planetary scientists located eight of geological features on Mars where thick ice hides just below the surface. The 300 feet thick ice gives the landscape a blue-black hue.
This ice, the researchers say, could be a tempting target for future exploration — as well as a valuable resource for Earthlings camped out.
"We have found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will appeal to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history," “We've found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will be of interest to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history,” said Colin Dundas, a member of the US Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona as quoted by The Washington Post on Friday (1/12/2018).
Scientists already know that about a third of the Martian surface contains the shallow polar ice that is the site of large ice deposits, but research published Thursday describes the thickness of the underground ice sheet along a slope that is up to 300 meters high in the mid-latitudes of the planet.
"It's surprising to find ice exposure on the surface of these places, where the middle of the latitude is normally covered with dust or regolith blankets, with loose rocks at the top of the bedrock," Dundas said.
In 2001, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft arrived at the planet and began snooping for chemical signatures of ice. The craft's gamma-ray spectrometer found telltale hydrogen, which indicated Mars had enormous amounts of ice. As much as a third of the Martian surface contains shallow ice. But remotely sensing elements such as hydrogen could not reveal the depth and makeup of the ice.
The newer Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mapped the surface in greater detail. Dundas and his colleagues used its pictures to locate exposed ice in small craters, glaciers and ice sheets.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter since 2006 has studied Mars's atmosphere and terrain, including the history of water flow at or near the surface.
“The high-resolution data has greatly improved our understanding of various ice-related land forms,” he said.
Dundas explains, in the middle of the latitude is normally closed dust or regolith masses with loose rocks at the top of the bedrock layer. Latitude is equivalent to the Earth of Scotland or the tip of South America.
Open University's Matt Balme, a planetary scientist in Britain who did not participate in this study, said the key findings were the color images of a bluish tint. It is unlikely that the frozen sheets are a mix of water and soil.
“If the conclusions of the paper are correct you’re looking at something that's almost pure ice,” he said.
The study authors point out that these ice sheets formed when heavy snow enveloped Mars. Balme also agreed that snow might create ice for several thousand years.
“We considered the possibility that we were seeing surface frost,” Dundas said.
The buried ice revealed itself after the structures became unstable and expanded. Those cliffs formed through a process called sublimation, in which exposed ice turned directly into water vapor. Boulders and dust that rested on the ice suddenly had their foundation vanish into the atmosphere.
The findings show that lhe ice was likely deposited as snow long ago. The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice holding clues about Mars' climate history. They also may make frozen water more accessible than previously thought to future robotic or human exploration missions.
These slopes are unusually steep, Balme said, though he imagines that the scarps look similar to glacial moraines on Earth. The sheets' proximity to the surface makes them accessible, in theory, to robot explorers.
This subsurface ice could contain valuable records of the Martian climate.
“If we were to send humans to live on Mars for a substantial period of time, it would be a fantastic source of water,” Balme said.