Life on Mars breakthrough as water ice spotted under ‘Grand Canyon’ of Red Planet

NASA: Scientist reveals where life on Mars may exist

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It came from data collected by the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), part of the ExoMars mission operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos. Among the arsenal of instruments on board the probe is the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND), which can detect hydrogen, one of the two elements that make up water. Water is the basis of life and essential for all the processes we know.

New analyses of FREND’s data show high levels of hydrogen at a site called Candor Chaos, located near the heart of the “Grand Canyon” system dubbed Valles Marineris.

Alexey Malakhov, a senior scientist at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: “We found a central part of Valles Marineris to be packed full of water — far more water than we expected.

“This is very much like Earth’s permafrost regions, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil because of the constant low temperatures.

Valles Marineris is the largest canyon in the solar system – and more than five-time deeper than the Grand Canyon on Earth.

When experts have looked for eater ice in the region before they have only been able to study the surface dust.

But the new probe allows them to study the upper subsurface as well as the immediate surface.

Igor Mitrofanov, another scientist at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, added: “With TGO we can look down to one metre below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on below Mars’ surface.

“Crucially, we can locate water-rich ‘oases’ that couldn’t be detected with previous instruments.”

The data was collected by FREND between May 2018 and February 2021, according to an ESA statement.

The team believe the hydrogen they have detected is in the form of water ice, which they say means the compound could make up as much as 40 percent of near-surface material in the area.

Hakan Svedhem, the former ESA project scientist for the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, said: “This finding is an amazing first step, but we need more observations to know for sure what form of water we’re dealing with.

“Regardless of the outcome, the finding demonstrates the unrivalled abilities of TGO’s instruments in enabling us to ‘see’ below Mars’ surface — and reveals a large, not-too-deep, easily exploitable reservoir of water in this region of Mars.”

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Colin Wilson, ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter project scientist added that knowing more about “how and where water exists” on Mars today is “essential to understand what happened to Mars’ once-abundant water”.

He added that it also “helps our search for habitable environments, possible signs of past life, and organic materials from Mars’ earliest days”.

The team’s incredible findings will be published in the March 2022 issue of the journal Icarus and was published online on November 19.

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