Whether there is water on Mars is one of the great unknowns that we are now trying to decipher. We know that there was water on the surface at some point because it has left its ruts. And for years scientists have thought that there may be a network of underground water lakes on Mars. However, from the beginning, researchers doubted that this could be the case. And now, new research names what it is that is frozen under the surface of the red planet. But it’s not water.
The data has been collected with Mars Express, a European Space Agency (ESA) probe orbiting the planet. Coupled to this track is MARSIS, another satellite that has collected data on possible networks of water lakes on Mars. And they appear to show bright spots that, now, researchers believe could be frozen clay, they indicate from ScienceAlert. More specifically: hydrated aluminum silicates or smectite minerals.
“To date, all previous work could only suggest the existence of holes in the lake plot. We are the first work to show that other material is the most likely cause of the observations,” he says. Isaac smith, planetary scientist at the Institute of Planetary Sciences and the University of York, Canada. “Now, our work offers the first plausible alternative hypothesis, and considerably more likely, to explain the MARSIS observations. ”
Underground lake of water on Mars?
The MARSIS observations indicated that under the southern polar cap of the red planet there could be an underground lake. Later, other areas joined that possibility. And they thought that, perhaps, it was possible that there was a network of lakes with frozen water on Mars. But there was a problem that made it difficult for Mars to be the water paradise that some were waiting for. And the planet is very, very cold. That cold, explain the researchers who are now talking about other options, makes it difficult for what is there to be water.
And what is there? For Smith and his team there is a possible solution: “Solid clays frozen at cryogenic temperatures can produce reflections. Our study combined theoretical modeling with laboratory measurements and remote sensing observations “, comments the researcher.
“The three agreed that smectites can produce reflections and that smectites are present at the south pole of Mars. It is the trifecta: measuring the properties of the material, showing that the properties of the material can explain the observation, and showing that the materials are present at the site of observation. “
Also, smectites are not rare on Mars. In fact, 50% of its surface is made up of them, “with a greater concentration in the southern hemisphere, particularly in the southern highlands.” What’s more, even Curiosity has examined some deposits of these minerals.
To see if their hypothesis could be a good one, Smith and his team frozen calcium-montmorillonite clay, which is abundant on Mars, at -43 degrees to be able to check if measurements of its dielectric permittivity, the property that MARSIS captures, agreed with the results. of the probe. And so it has been, so now they are more convinced that their hypothesis is true.
Could still be water
But let’s not rush. And is that the results of Mars InSight, the NASA mission that measures the vital signs of the planet, they point out that there could be geological and volcanic activity on Mars. This means that if the red planet is hot inside, yes it could be water after all. But we still cannot confirm the first indications of the NASA mission. For this reason, We will have to wait a little more to see if there is water under the surface of Mars.
However, to better understand what happens to water on Mars, whether in underground water lakes or something else, there is still a lot of work to do. That is why it is so important that new missions are sent to the red planet and that those that are already there keep working looking for an answer.