Using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have discovered a large deposit of ice beneath a region of cracked and pitted plains on Mars. The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet to about 560 feet, with a composition that is 50 to 85 per cent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles, the researchers reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet’s axis was more tilted than it is today,” said lead author of the study Cassie Stuurman from the University of Texas at Austin in the US.
The scientists examined part of Mars’ Utopia Planitia region in the mid-northern latitudes with the orbiter’s ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument.
Analyses of data revealed a deposit more extensive in area than the US state of New Mexico. The newly surveyed ice deposit represents less than one percent of all known water ice on Mars, the study said.
“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” co-author Jack Holt from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics said.
The Utopian water is all frozen now. If there were a melted layer — which would be significant for the possibility of life on Mars — it would have been evident in the radar scans, the researchers noted.