SCIENCE

Mars might have salty ponds next to its underground lake, raising the possibility of Martian life

Sep 29, 2020, 5:58 AM
Artistic impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of Mars. Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State Univ., ESA, INAF

    (CNN) — Two years ago, scientists detected what looked like a salty lake under the surface of Mars’ southern ice cap.

Now, new research has found more evidence of the lake, and also revealed a number of smaller salty “ponds” nearby — raising the possibility there may be life on the Red Planet.

In the new study, Italian scientists used the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. The radar covered a larger area of the Martian surface and gathered additional data, allowing the scientists to “confirm the liquid nature of the previously observed lake,” the research team said in a statement.

The scientists were able to gather more specific details about the lake — for instance, they estimate it’s about 30 by 20 kilometers (18.6 by 12.4 miles) in area.

“The presence of a subglacial lake could have important consequences for astrobiology and the presence of habitable niches on Mars,” the statement added.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, also said the detection of “several other smaller patches of water” was particularly exciting.

The ponds — which the study describes as “patchy water pools or wet areas of smaller extent” — are different sizes, and separated from the main lake by strips of dry land.

The discovery is significant because it gives us a better idea of the Mars climate, and chemical makeup. For instance, the fact the lake and its surrounding ponds are still liquid suggest they are “hypersaline,” the study said — meaning they contain lots of salts. This lowers the melting point, preventing the water from freezing despite the cold environment, and may have allowed them to “survive for an extended period of time on a geological scale.”

And, of course, there’s the question of extraterrestrial life.

A study last year suggested that 3 to 4 billion years ago, Mars — now cold and inhospitable — may have been warm enough to host pouring rainstorms and flowing water, which would have created an environment that could support simple life. As temperatures dropped later on, the water would freeze.

The latest research posits that life on Mars might not just be a thing of the past.

“The possibility of extended hypersaline water bodies on Mars is particularly exciting because of the potential for the existence of microbial life,” the study said.

If there really is life in these salty waters, it could take different forms. The scientists speculated there could be anaerobes — tiny organisms that don’t need oxygen — or extremophiles, which can survive in extreme cold or heat.

There could even be aerobes — organisms that require oxygen. Salty brines like the lakes or ponds hold six times the minimal amount of oxygen needed for microbes to breathe, the study said.

“The water bodies at the base of the (south polar layered deposits) therefore represent areas of potential astrobiological interest and planetary protection concern,” the study concluded, urging future Mars missions to target the polar lake region to gather additional data.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Science

This Sept. 24, 2020 photo shows the major parts of the IRIS radio that the Space Dynamics Laborator...
Waverly Golden

Utah State University helps NASA with space exploration

NASA is launching a new mission in 2025 and Utah State University is helping them by building space-based radios.
6 months ago
(A testing site operated by Nomi Health across the street from UDOH headquarters.  Photo: Paul Nels...
Paul Nelson

Federal health officials investigating Utah-based company over COVID-19 testing

A Utah-based company is being investigating for claims of substandard conditions at COVID-19 testing sites.
6 months ago
radio circle...
Ashley Strickland, CNN

Mysterious ‘odd radio circles’ seen in space, new image shows

Astronomers found the odd radio circles using the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, operated by Australia's national science agency CSIRO, or Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, two years ago.
6 months ago
mental health daylight exposure...
Jacob Rueda

Researchers say mental health affected by daylight exposure

With daylight saving time possibly becoming permanent, researchers say daylight exposure can affect mental health, and more darkness during winter might be harmful,
7 months ago
Artemis I...
Ashley Strickland, CNN

NASA rolls mega Artemis I moon rocket out to the launchpad

Originally Published: 17 MAR 22 09:33 ET Updated: 18 MAR 22 13:22 ET (CNN) — The Artemis I mission is another step closer to its lunar launch. The massive 322-foot-tall (98 meters) stack, which includes NASA’s Space Launch System rocket topped by the Orion spacecraft, rolled out for its testing debut at Kennedy Space Center […]
7 months ago
Intermountain Healthcare facilities upgrade landscaping...
Paul Nelson

Pandemic-delayed cancer screenings mean increased rates of colon cancer

Doctors are seeing a rise in the number of patients with colon cancer. And they say it's because of delayed cancer screenings during the pandemic.
7 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Prescription opioid...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
...

Tax Tuesday: Key Information Before the Filing Deadline

Businesses can receive a credit of up to $5,000 per employee in 2020 and up to $21,000 per employee in 2021.
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Mars might have salty ponds next to its underground lake, raising the possibility of Martian life