Scientists Have Found Water Ice Below Mars’ Surface
Beneath the red dirt of Mars is a massive amount of water ice. Since we can’t yet dig down there yet and use a Brita filter, we’re not quite sure how far we need to go, if it’s filled with alien bacteria that annoyed Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, and any other number of problems finding water on a planet where you can’t run to the mailbox in your robe to get the paper.
This is one of the problems visitors to Mars will face when they land on the surface. We can probably get there within a few decades (probably under a decade if NASA got a budget that was 1/5 of how much Jeff Bezos is worth). But the surface of Mars really needs to be understood more if astronauts will need to depend on that subsurface ice to live on the planet to live for an undetermined amount of time, let alone using that ice to convert hydrogen into fuel to get off the planet.
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The problem is with Mars is that it’s not that easy to drill that far into the surface with landers. They can go down of a few centimeters, then use radar to give scientists at home what might be down there with a radar, but you can only do so much from millions of miles away.
The positive thing about Mars surface is that many areas tend to erode by the harsh conditions. All we have to do is find a spot of land that was laid waste to by time — like rocks turning to sand from waves constantly crushing it, or the pyramids of Egypt being stripped away. This will erase a lot of the land from the surface leading to humans who land there having no need to drill deep down since the subterranean levels are only covered with a dusting.
Sound optimistic? It gets better. Scientists have discovered that site. HiRISE, a high-tech camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has found not just one, but many.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found at least eight such sites that could access these eroded areas that may lead to water ice.
USGS planetary geologist Colin Dundas presented observations on the eight sites that could have erosions that would require mining of ice as deep as 1-100 meters below the surface. There’s no real estimate to how much ice there is, but there’s quite the agreement that the ice is pure.
“On Mars, when you see something bright, it usually means ice,” explains Richard Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The majority of the material on Mars reflects little light, “but the albedo readings on these exposed sections show that this is very bright stuff,” he says. “And the spectrometer readings support that this is water ice and not ice-cemented soil, which would be much harder to convert into water as a resource.”
“I’m sure we haven’t found all of the exposures at this point,” Dundas says.
There’s still a lot to do when it comes to finding more ice exposure points, especially when it comes to where they are in regards to the equator of the planet.
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is equipped with radar that can look into the ground to see into the upper layers of the surface. Not only that, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, also slated for a 2020 launch to the red planet, will bet hooked up with a drill that will be able to drill into the surface up to 2 meters.
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Jeff Sorensen is an author, writer and occasional comedian living in Detroit, Michigan. You can look for more of his work on The Huffington Post, UPROXX, BGR and by just looking up his name.