ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, operated by the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has detected “significant amounts of water” in Mars’ Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris.
The water, which is hidden beneath Mars ‘surface, was found by the orbiter’s FREND instrument, which maps hydrogen in the top meter of Mars’ earth, ESA said.
The water-rich area is roughly the size of the Netherlands and overlaps with valleys in Candor Chaos, ESA said.
ESA said that while water is found in the polar regions of the planet, it is not found only at the surface near the equator, as the temperatures there are not cold enough for the exposed water ice to be stable.
Several previous missions, including ESA’s Mars Express, have been searching for water near the planet’s surface, in the form of ice, trapped in soil or minerals. However, studies have only explored the planet’s surface, and water may exist deeper in the planet, covered in dust, the agency said.
“With TGO, we can look down to a meter below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on beneath Mars’ surface – and, crucially, locate watery ‘oases’ that could not be detected by previous instruments,” said Igor Mitrofanov from the Russian Academy of Sciences space research institute in Moscow.
“FREND revealed an area with an unusually large amount of hydrogen in the colossal Valles Marineris rift system: Assuming the hydrogen we see is bound to water molecules, as much as 40% of the material near the surface in this region appears to be to be water, “he said in a statement.
The team analyzed FREND observations from May 2018 to February 2021, which mapped the hydrogen content of Mars’ Earth by detecting neutrons instead of light.
“Neutrons are produced when very energetic particles known as ‘galactic cosmic rays’ hit Mars; Dry Earth emits more neutrons than wetter ones, and so we can deduce how much water there is in an earth by looking at the neutrons it emits, Said Alexey Malakhov of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “FREND’s unique observation technique brings far higher spatial resolution than previous measurements of this type, allowing us now to see water elements that had not been seen before.”
“We found that a central part of Valles Marineris was filled with water – far more water than we had expected. This is much like Earth’s permafrost areas, where water ice remains permanently under dry soil due to the constant low temperatures,” he said. and added that they believe the water on Mars probably exists in the form of ice.
“This finding is a fantastic first step, but we need more observations to know for sure what kind of water we are dealing with,” said ESA’s Håkan Svedhem.
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