For the first time, scientists have found a large, watery lake beneath an ice cap on Mars. Because water is essential to life, the discovery offers an exciting new place to search for life forms beyond Earth.
Italian scientists working on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission announced on Wednesday that a 12-mile wide underground liquid pool — not just the momentary damp spots seen in the past — had been detected by radar measurements near the Martian south pole.
“Water is there,” Enrico Flamini, the former chief scientist of the Italian Space Agency who oversaw the research, said during a news conference.
“It is liquid, and it’s salty, and it’s in contact with rocks,” he added. “There are all the ingredients for thinking that life can be there, or can be maintained there if life once existed on Mars.”
The body of water appears similar to underground lakes found on Earth in Greenland and Antarctica. On Earth, microbial life persists down in the dark, frigid waters of one such lake. The ice on Mars would also shield the Martian lake from the damaging radiation that bombards the planet’s surface. [Continue reading…]