Good news from Mars!
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter by ESA has discovered a high amount of water frozen at the bottom of Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars.
Valles Marineris is a 4000km long grand canyon system located at the South of the Martian Equator.
The water is hidden below the surface of Mars which was found by mapping the hydrogen presence using the FREND Instrument of Trace Gas Orbiter(TGO).
Near-surface water in the form of ice which is covered by dusty grains in the soil was detected by ESA’s Mars Express.
“With TGO we can look down to one metre below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on below Mars’ surface – and, crucially, locate water-rich ‘oases’ that couldn’t be detected with previous instruments,” said Igor Mitrofanov, lead author of the study and principal investigator of the FREND l neutron telescope.
“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,” he added.
The area with a high water presence is about the size of the Netherlands and it overlaps the deep valleys of Candor Chaos which is a part of the Canyon system.
Igor and his colleagues analyzed the output data from the observations of FREND from May 2018 to February 2021.
They mapped the hydrogen content in the soil by analyzing reflected neutrons from the martian surface.
“Neutrons are produced when highly energetic particles known as ‘galactic cosmic rays’ strike Mars; drier soils emit more neutrons than wetter ones, and so we can deduce how much water is in a soil by looking at the neutrons it emits,” said the co-author, Alexey Malakhov.
“We found a central part of Valles Marineris to be packed full of water – far more water than we expected.
This is very much like Earth’s permafrost regions, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil because of the constant low temperatures,” he added.
According to the mapping data, the water might be in the form of ice or chemically bound to other minerals in the soil.
“Knowing more about how and where water exists on present-day Mars is essential to understand what happened to Mars’ once-abundant water, and helps our search for habitable environments, possible signs of past life, and organic materials from Mars’ earliest days.”
“This result really demonstrates the success of the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars programme,” says Colin Wilson, ESA’s ExoMars TGO project scientist.
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