Using a radar instrument on an orbiting spacecraft, scientists have spotted what they said on Wednesday appears to be a sizable salt-laden lake under ice on the southern polar plain of Mars, a body of water they called a possible habitat for microbial life.
The reservoir they detected — roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface — represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars.
Whether anywhere other than Earth has harbored life is one of the supreme questions in science, and the new findings offer tantalizing evidence, though no proof. Water is considered a fundamental ingredient for life.
The researchers said it could take years to determine whether something is actually living in this body of water, which resembles a subglacial lake on Earth, perhaps with a future mission drilling through the ice to sample the water below.
“This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist,” said planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science.
The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s MarsExpress spacecraft that transmits radar pulses, which can penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps. (Reuters)
Here are photos of the remarkable variety that the surface of Mars presents.