Monday, October 12, 2009

Subsurface Ice Found Near Martian Equator

In a study in 2008 relating to recent impact craters on Mars, researchers have found that subsurface ice exists underneath the Martian surface soil. The ice was discovered when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's (MRO) Context camera team was looking for blemishes on Mars which could be recent meteorite impacts. They are usually dark and are not in older images.

The team found a few and so had these sites imaged by high-resolution cameras. What they saw was a surprise because instead of seeing dark material from under the surface exposed by the impacts, they saw something that was bluish white. Team member Shane Byrne said they found it when they followed up on the first of three craters. He said it looked a lot like water ice. The MRO Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer took a peek at the spectrum of the material and it showed the signature of water ice.

As expected in the thin Martial atmosphere, the ice changed over time and disappeared. Ice on Mars do not last long exposed to air because it sublimates like dry ice does, turning directly into water vapor and never turning to flowing water. The image at the top shows what happens to the Martian landscape when ice vaporizes from underneath.

The discovery of subsurface ice will help a lot in the quest to learn more about the past of Mars, which is believed to have gone through a wet period. It's possible that microbial life once existed or still exists trapped in the ice. Current studies on Mars are a prerequisite to the first Mars astronauts on the red planet. Next to the Moon, Mars is likely the second body beyond Earth where people would set foot on.

One day, people will go to Mars and grow plants for food and oxygen. Will this Mimosa plant be one of the first few to go on a different planet? Click here or on the image to place your order.

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