Water Beneath the South Polar Ice Cap of Mars

The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument has detected liquid water beneath the Mars South Polar Ice Cap. This data supports the presence of basal water beneath Ultimi Scopuli and suggest. If we bring surface topography instruments to Mars we could get radar confirmation other potential subglacial water bodies and confirm this reading.

Their analysis revealed a 10-15 kilometer-long surface undulation comprising a depression and a corresponding raised area, both of which deviate from the surrounding ice surface by several meters. This is similar in scale to undulations over subglacial lakes here on Earth.

Above – The left-hand panel shows the surface topography of Mars’s south pole, with the outline of the south polar cap in black. The light blue line shows the area used in the modeling experiments, and the green square shows the region containing the inferred subglacial water. The ice in the region is around 1500 m thick. The right-hand panel shows the surface undulation identified by the Cambridge-led research team. It is visible as the red area, which is elevated by 5-8 m above the regional topography, with a smaller depression (2-4 m below the regional topography) upstream (towards the top right of the image). The black outline shows the area of water as inferred by the orbiting radar. Credit: University of Cambridge

7 thoughts on “Water Beneath the South Polar Ice Cap of Mars”

  1. Evidence suggests autotrophic life exists in solid rock as much as six miles deep on Earth.

    Material can be ejected into space by various cataclysmic forces. Certain lifeforms can survive extended periods in space. (This may even be because everything that didn’t get ejected into space, and survive that, during one or more of these cataclysms, did not survive anywhere.)

    There is even some speculation that conditions for the origin of life might have been more favorable on early Mars, than on early Earth. I try to keep an open mind. Given liquid water, the conditions in solid rock many miles underground are unlikely to be different enough to preclude the existence of autotrophs similar to those on (under) Earth.

    At any rate, I will be very surprised if we don’t eventually find autotrophs living deep under Mars and–surprise–they will be incredibly similar to what we have here, because they share a common ancestry and, because they live so slowly that they probably have not changed much since they diverged.

    Small caveat: this in no way sheds any light whatsoever on the Fermi Paradox. The explanations for that lie elsewhere.

    • That’s about my expectation; Earth and Mars were trading huge amounts of material over a period when both would have had conditions suitable for life. It’s anybody’s guess whether it evolved first on Mars, Earth, or someplace else, but I expect life still exists underground on Mars, (“In” Mars?) and it shares a common ancestry with Earth life. Though hopefully not so similar we won’t learn something new from it.

      It may even cause colonists a bit of trouble when they start tapping aquifers; Biofouling of pumps, and who knows what will happen when waste heat from habitats warms that subsoil?

      • So might Chemosynthesis, like what Earth has with its Black Smokers at the bottom of our oceans in complete darkness.

        When I was a teenager, I postulated a highly advanced race of aliens, living beneath the surface of a fictional moon in another solar system, in a giant cavern: https://amzn.to/3QXZBfa They had “Light Plants” to illuminate the cavern roof.
        We’re probably not going to discover that, but technically, nothing sent to Mars to date has ruled it out.

        • The black smokers are the reason I talked about there being tectonic activity; it’s what feeds them. Since Mars doesn’t have any, there should also be no black smokers, but I’m prepared to be proven wrong. In fact, I hope I’m wrong, since my conclusion is obviously the much less interesting one.

    • Porifera are Eukaryotes. Chances that Archaea might happen to evolve into Eukaryotes in just a billion years are pretty slim.

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