Tuesday, 22 February 2005

Mars on Ice

From the ABC :
A frozen sea surviving as blocks of pack ice may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, New Scientist magazine says, citing observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft.

Images from the high-resolution stereo camera on Mars Express show off structures called plates that look similar to ice formations near earth's poles.

These plates could indicate the first discovery of a large body of water beyond Mars' polar ice caps, the review says.

The team of researchers, led by John Murray of Britain's Open University, estimated the possible submerged ice sea to be about 800 by 900 kilometres in size and 45 metres deep on average.

The researchers say the evidence suggests that the plates are about 5 million years old.

They believe they are not just imprints left by ice that has now completely vanished.
The discovery was to be presented on Friday at the first Mars Express science conference in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

In their paper, the researchers traced a possible history for Mars's underground ice, saying it began with huge masses of ice floating in water that were later covered with volcanic ash, leaving the pack ice plates behind.

"If the reported hypothesis is true, then this would be a prime candidate landing site to search for possible extant life on Mars," said Brian Hynek, a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in the United States.
Damn right it would! But not merely that, water in truly significant quantities - we're talking about a frozen ocean here - would make the terraforming of the joint entirely feasible with present-day technology.

OK, it may take a thousand years or so to implement, and Mars isn't a goer in the long-term as it's too small to hold a decent atmosphere for very long (geologically speaking), but if the hypothesis is confirmed, it would be a Big Deal. Time to send a drilling robot there, I'd say. With colonists to follow within a century, if they hit paydirt.

It's early days yet, the whole thing may well be a non-starter. But the payoff is so huge that it's worth reporting on, even if the probability is low.

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