The secret of Mars’ ice: A 3-kilometer-thick slab of water ice was found near the Red Planet’s equator!

The secret of Mars’ ice: A 3-kilometer-thick slab of water ice was found near the Red Planet’s equator!

Map of potential ice thickness at MFF

(European Space Agency)

For more than a decade, the mysterious Medusae Fossil Formations (MFF) on Mars have captivated scientists with their towering dust formations and mysterious composition. Was it just dust blown by the wind or something more? New research by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft has finally revealed the answer: layers of water ice extending more than three kilometers below the surface, the largest amount of water ever found in this part of the Red Planet.

The MFF extends across hundreds of kilometres, and is evidence of Mars’ dynamic past. While the planet appears barren today, its surface tells stories of a time when water flowed freely. Dry riverbeds, ocean floors, ancient lakes and water-carved valleys paint a picture of a wetter Mars. Now, with the discovery of massive ice deposits near the planet’s equator, scientists have a new chapter to add to this ancient tale.

Uncovering the secrets of MFF has not been an easy journey. Initial observations from Mars Express indicated the presence of ice, but scientists were unable to rule out the possibility of dust, volcanic ash or sediment. However, new, deeper-penetrating radar data has painted a clearer picture. The signals returned from the MFF match what we would expect to see from ice sheets, similar to signals from Mars’ polar ice caps.

A futuristic oasis in the Martian desert?

These newly discovered glacial deposits are not just remarkable scientific discoveries; They have huge potential for future Mars exploration. Missions to Mars are likely to land near the equator, far from the polar ice caps. With water being a critical resource, finding ice in this region could be a game-changer for human missions.

While this discovery is exciting, there are still hurdles to overcome. The ice deposits lie beneath hundreds of meters of dust, making them inaccessible for the foreseeable future. However, each piece of the Martian water puzzle contributes to a greater understanding of the planet’s history and its ability to support life.

Mars Express is not alone in its quest to uncover the secrets of Mars. ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is mapping hydrogen, an indicator of water ice, in the top layer of Martian soil. Together, these spacecraft paint a comprehensive picture of the distribution of water on the Red Planet.

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