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Large sheets of ice may have been spotted on Mars

13 January 2018

Throwing some more light about the latest icy imagery of Mars, Dundas said, "The take-home message is, these are nice exposures that teach us about the 3D structure of the ice, including that the ice sheets begin shallowly, and also that there are fine layers". Some of the deposits are under just one or two meters of dirt.

This could make it more hard for a human explorer to extract those resources, Zurek said.

Above - A cross-section of underground ice is exposed at the steep slope that appears bright blue in this enhanced-color view from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

It isn't news that there's ice on Mars.

These cliffs are "rare peeks into the subsurface of Mars, giving us access to an undisturbed slice through Mars' ice in the mid-latitudes - a fantastic find!" said Susan Conway, a planetary scientist at the University of Nantes in France who was not involved with this research.

As with many things Martian, the work relies on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Researchers broke the news in a journal report published Thursday, revealing the ice sheets they found just below the surface extend about 300 feet down and could explain much about the planet's past climate. Streaks on images of the surface of Mars, thought to be water, were previous year revealed to be just drifts of sand.

Researchers believe the ice formed relatively recently, because the sites appear smooth on the surface, unpocked by craters that would be formed by celestial debris smashing into the planet over time.

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"This ice is a critical target for science and exploration: it affects modern geomorphology, is expected to preserve a record of climate history, influences the planet's habitability, and may be a potential resource for future exploration", the study authors wrote.

Aside from potentially aiding in human exploration of Mars, the newly-mapped ice sheets could also unlock secrets hidden in Mars' past.

"What this study shows is that there is abundant water trapped just beneath the surface of Mars", said Professor Martin Van Kranendonk, director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology. As much as a third of the Martian surface contains shallow ice.

"One of those is oxygen, which we need to breathe, and another is methane, which is what we would use to form rocket fuel on the surface of Mars".

Planetary scientists around the world are finding hope in that this could, in fact, be the clue to pure ice.

The ice probably started as snowfall that compacted into massive fractured layers.

"It is surprising that exposed ice has been found on the surface of these locations in mid-latitudes, which are usually covered by a layer of dust or rheology", said Dandas. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips.

Large sheets of ice may have been spotted on Mars