Research Press Release

Planetary science: A patchwork of salty lakes below Mars’s south pole

Nature Astronomy

September 29, 2020

Several subglacial liquid bodies of various sizes have been detected below the south pole of Mars, according to a paper published in Nature Astronomy this week. The findings suggest that patches of wet areas, which remain liquid on account of their high concentration of salts, could exist under the Martian south pole.

Subglacial lakes are known to exist on Earth in Antarctica. Previous research has shown a similar body below the Martian southern polar region, detected by the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) onboard the Mars Express spacecraft. The presence of a subglacial lake could have important consequences for astrobiology and the presence of habitable niches on Mars. However, there is debate about the liquid nature of this body and its composition.

Elena Pettinelli and colleagues employed techniques used by Earth satellites to detect Antarctic subglacial lakes to analyse the MARSIS data of a wide area of 250 × 300 km2 around the Martian liquid body. The authors were able to confirm the liquid nature of the previously observed lake. They also identified several other smaller patches of water separated from the main body by strips of dry material.

The authors suggest that the liquid bodies are hypersaline solutions, in which high concentrations of salts are dissolved in water, which may explain why such bodies can remain liquid despite the cold environment at the base of Mars’s south pole.


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