Mars’ huge ravine system, Valles Marineris, can keep hidden water below the surface, according to a new study. The European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos’ collaborative ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) detected large amounts of water in the heart of the gorge. By monitoring the hydrogen concentration in the upper meter of the red planet’s soil, TGO’s FREND (Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector) has investigated these findings. This is due to the fact that hydrogen is a key indicator of water concentration. Water is known to exist on Mars, but mostly in the polar regions in frozen form and in orbits at lower latitudes of the planet as water near the surface.
ESA quoted Igor Mitrofanov, lead author of the study, says: “With TGO, we can look down to a meter below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on below. Mars’ surface – and, crucially, locate watery ‘oases’ that could not be detected by previous instruments. “
Based on FREND’s observations, researchers believe that the enormous amounts of hydrogen in the gorge are bound to water molecules. This means that water makes up about 40 percent of the region’s near-surface material.
Co-author Alexey Malakhov explained why the FREND neutron telescope has been used for detection. He said that when “high-energy particles known as galactic cosmic rays” come in contact with Mars, neutrons are formed. He went on to add that drier soils emit more neutrons than wetter ones, allowing scientists to assess how much water is in a soil by looking at the neutrons it emits.
Researchers examined the FREND observations from May 2018 to February 2021 to reach a conclusion. According to them, the presumed water in Mars’ canyon can be compared to the Earth’s permafrost area, where water ice becomes permanent under dry soil.
Water ice is unusual at Mars’ lower latitudes. This is because the temperatures are so high that water molecules evaporate in this region. Co-author Hakan Svedhem said: “This discovery is a fantastic first step, but we need more observations to know for sure what kind of water we are dealing with.”
Discovering a reservoir of water at Valles Marineris is important as several future missions to Mars are planned to land at lower latitudes for future exploration.
Valles Marineris is often compared to the Earth’s Grand Canyon, which is ten times shorter and five times lower. Mars’ canyon is the largest canyon in the solar system and also the planet’s most majestic landscape.
Colin Wilson, Those ExoMar’s TGO project researcher said that knowledge of Mars’ current water content would enable scientists to understand what happened to the planet’s once abundant water. The discovery will also help detect signs of past lives, organic materials and habitable environments.