Ice cliffs found on the surface of Mars could provide humans beings with vital supplies for the future colonization of the solar system. Vast deposits of water ice on Mars were measured to be as thick as 100 meters, roughly the size of an American football field.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) recorded the presence of massive quantities of the life-sustaining substance deposited within eight locations along steep cliffs stretching across the ruddy landscape.
“There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars. What we’ve seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before,” said Colin Dundas from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center, located in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The ice-bearing cliffs where the MRO studied the deposits meet the ground at angles up to 55 degrees or greater. Researchers speculate that the material may have been deposited there long ago in the form of snow when climatic conditions were more favorable on that alien world. Today, that frozen water remains largely pristine, due to the sterile environment of the long-dead planet. Ice sitting on the cliff face is sublimating, or turning directly from solid ice to water vapor, as it is exposed to the thin Martian atmosphere
“The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers, which could preserve a record of Mars’ past climate. They might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” investigators wrote in the journal Science.
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the MRO captured the new data, providing a wealth of information on Mars. A thermal imager, aboard a second Martian orbiter, the Mars Odyssey, determined the ice seen by the MRO is found in thick deposits, rather than just a thin layer of frost on the surface of the planet.
Researchers have known for some time that ice may be found under much of the Martian landscape, but this new study reveals details of large deposits of the material never before seen on the Red Planet. Sub-surface ice extends as close as one to two meters (three to seven feet) to the surface.
Space travelers of the future seeking to colonize the solar system will require supplies, including water, to survive in the harsh environment of space. If recent studies, including this finding, prove to be accurate, astronauts may have all the fresh water they need simply by harvesting it from beneath the surface of Mars.
Image: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Photo by NASA.