Scientists with NASA have discovered a huge deposit of water ice just under the surface of Mars.
The ice deposits have been found in the Utopia Planitia region of the planet, a large depression in the northern hemisphere — about halfway from the equator to the pole — of the planet.
The ice, which is about the size of New Mexico and contains enough water to fill Lake Superior, was located by using the ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet (80 meters) to about 560 feet (170 meters), with a composition that’s 50 to 85 percent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles.
Liquid water quickly evaporates on the surface of Mars, but the deposit is shielded from the atmosphere by a soil covering estimated to be about 3 to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters) thick.
“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” said Jack Holt of the University of Texas, coauthor of the Utopia paper.
“This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet’s axis was more tilted than it is today,” said Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, Austin. She is the lead author of the Utopia paper.
Mars accumulates large amounts of water ice at the poles. In cycles lasting about 120,000 years.