Mars ice cliffs could be key to supporting life on Red Planet

Martian ice may be more available than previously known for use to support future missions

Martian ice may be more available than previously known for use to support future missions

The results revealed massive subsurface ice sheets on the planet extending from just below the surface to a depth of at least 100 meters (328ft).

A team of scientists, led by Colin Dundas, a geologist at the US Geological Survey, analyzed data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), specifically looking at eight areas where erosion occurred.

Scientists point out that the hidden ice sheets could pave the way for supporting life on Mars.

The research, using images from a Nasa spacecraft now orbiting the Red Planet, found that there are eight sites that appear to have huge ice deposits on steep slopes.

Scientists now want to seek out similar cliffs closer to the equator, hoping that the next surprise awaiting them is the discovery of ice nearer to the tropics. Whilst water ice is known to be present in some locations on Mars, many questions remain about its layering, thickness, purity, and extent.

Although HiRISE images appear black and white when viewed separately, each image is taken using a special filter, which focuses on one part of the spectrum of light. The colour section in the middle, is a combination of images, that filter for red, near-infrared and blue-green wavelengths of light. The researchers didn't leave this to simple colour interpretation, though.

"The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice", Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, a co-author on the report, told NASA on Thursday.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice. The size of the deposit, however, means that it will be a very long time before it completely sublimates into the atmosphere. This makes these sites very valuable, for the climate science they contain locked away in their layers, and as a potential water source for when humans eventually land on Mars, and attempt to establish colonies there. "You can go out with a bucket and shovel and just collect as much water as you need".