- Scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery of “significant amounts of water” hidden beneath the surface of Mars within the Valles Marineris canyon system.
- Up to 40% of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water, according to data from the Trace Gas Orbiter’s Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND).
- Previous water discoveries on Mars were mostly near the poles and in the form of ice, but this finding suggests a potential source of liquid water in a more accessible location.
- The water reservoir, while promising, still needs further study to determine its exact form, whether it’s liquid, ice, or a combination of both.
- This discovery could have significant implications for future Mars missions, providing a potential source of water for astronauts and colonization efforts.
In a revelation that could reshape our understanding of Mars and future exploration efforts, scientists have unveiled a hidden treasure beneath the rusty surface of the Red Planet. A recent press release from the European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed the existence of a substantial volume of water lurking beneath the Valles Marineris canyon system, often considered Mars’ equivalent of Earth’s grand canyons.
The Valles Marineris canyon system, a breathtaking chasm stretching over 2,500 miles, has long fascinated scientists with its enigmatic features. However, it’s what lies beneath that has truly captured their attention. The water discovery is nothing short of revolutionary and holds the potential to redefine our approach to Mars exploration.
This remarkable find was made possible by the Trace Gas Orbiter, part of the ESA-Roscosmos project known as ExoMars. Equipped with the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND), this mission aimed to survey Mars’ landscape and assess the presence and concentration of hydrogen within its soil. Hydrogen, in this context, is a crucial indicator of water content.
The ingenious method employed by FREND involves high-energy cosmic rays penetrating the Martian surface, causing the soil to emit neutrons. Importantly, wet soil emits fewer neutrons than dry soil, enabling scientists to estimate the water content below the surface. The results are astonishing. “FREND revealed an area with an unusually large amount of hydrogen in the colossal Valles Marineris canyon system: assuming the hydrogen we see is bound into water molecules, as much as 40% of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water,” explained Igor Mitrofanov, the lead investigator of the Space Research Institute.
This discovery marks a departure from previous findings, which mainly identified water near Mars‘ polar regions in the form of ice. The scarcity of accessible liquid water on Mars had long been a challenge for potential colonization efforts. However, the abundance of water in Valles Marineris offers hope for future missions. It’s not yet clear whether this water is in liquid, solid (ice), or a combination of forms, but its presence is undeniably significant.
“The reservoir is large, not too deep below ground, & could be easily exploitable for future explorers,” stated an ExoMars tweet. While this news is undoubtedly exciting, there’s still much to learn. Neutron detection alone cannot distinguish between ice and water molecules. Geochemists and future missions will need to delve deeper to uncover the exact nature of this newfound water resource.
Alexey Malakhov, co-author of the study, likened the discovery to Earth’s permafrost regions, where water ice persists beneath dry soil due to constant low temperatures. Whether this water resource can be harnessed for future missions or even colonization remains to be seen. However, the Valles Marineris canyon system has now become a top priority for future human exploration on the Red Planet, promising a potential oasis in the Martian desert and a key step in humanity’s journey to the stars.