Finding water or ice on Mars is becoming fairly commonplace these days, but this is a new one: researchers are reporting that they've spotted tall cliffs, up to 100 metres (328 feet) high, made of almost pure water ice in several locations on Mars!
The images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.
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Erosion on Mars is exposing deposits of water ice, starting at depths as shallow as one to two meters below the surface and extending 100 meters or more. In that time, it has provided us with the most detailed maps of Mars we have yet, as well as revealing the composition of the surface features, including finding deposits of clay, gypsum and other minerals.
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. Since there are few craters on the surface at these sites, the authors propose that the ice was formed relatively recently. What's more, bands and variations in color suggest that the ice contains distinct layers, which could be used to understand changes in Mars' climate over time (the ice sheets themselves likely formed as snow accumulated over time). The scientists claim that the ice could be an easily accessible source of water for the explorers who hope to go and live there.
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According to NASA, the gray-scale portions of the image, on the left and right, are only from the red-light portion of the visible spectrum. The water could be used for drinking and potentially conversion into oxygen to breathe.
The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.
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"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.