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NASA issues statement on potential discovery of large body of water on Mars

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After a group published a study claiming to have discovered a large body of water on Mars, NASA issued a statement saying the findings were “extremely intriguing” and “definitely warrants further study.”

The paper authored by the Italian Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding was published in the journal Science on Wednesday, July 25. It outlined the discovery of a “bright spot” about 1 mile beneath the surface of an ice cap in the planet’s Planum Australe region. 

NASA reports on Thursday that this bright spot was interpreted by the group as being liquid water, which is essential to life as we know it. 

“The bright spot seen in the MARSIS data is an unusual feature and extremely intriguing,” NASA chief scientist Jim Green says in the release. “It definitely warrants further study. Additional lines of evidence should be pursued to test the interpretation.

“We hope to use other instruments to study it further in the future.”

The U.S. space agency points out that one of these instruments to study this potential discovery is the InSight lander, which is expected to land on Mars on Nov. 26 of this year. Once on the surface of the Red Planet, the InSight will become the first since the Apollo missions to place a seismometer on the surface of another planet or moon. 

InSight will aim to literally dig deeper into Mars than ever before. NASA says the mission’s main goal will focus on improving its understanding of the formation, evolution and history of rocky planets including Earth. 

“‘Follow the Water’ has been one of the major goals of NASA’s Mars program,” the space agency reports. “Water is currently driving NASA’s exploration into the outer solar system, where ocean worlds — like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus — hold the potential to support life.”

“Even protoplanets like Ceres may explain how water is stored in rocky ‘buckets’ that transport water across the solar system.”

As for the study published earlier this week researchers say they ruled out a “number of possible explanations” and conclude that “the existence of liquid water, either as a distinct water layer or as saturated sediments, as the only explanation.” 

The water was discovered using the ESA’s Express spacecraft and its “Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere sounding” device. Those involved studied the water for three years, and spent the last two years taking a closer look at its findings to ensure it had detected water and not ice. 

“Depending on the climate, the ice caps grow and shrink as a result of depositional and erosional events. This creates a unique stratigraphy within the ice caps, consisting of layers of equal age that scientists can analyze to derive information about past climate,” the study reads.

“Changes in ice flow owing to water at the base can change the appearance of these englacial layers; this needs to be considered when reconstructing their age. Analyzing these englacial reflectors, taking the new findings of liquid water below the SPLD into account, can therefore help unravel the climate history of Mars.”

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