“Using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages”
Future astronauts might have all the water they need already waiting for them on Mars. That’s because NASA has announced the discovery of a massive body of underground ice on the planet which they say is roughly the size of Lake Superior, 2,900 cubic miles.
NASA has completed more than 600 passes over “The Utopia” deposit region, which they say is bigger than the state of New Mexico, with a diameter of about 2,050 miles and running as deep as 560 feet. About 50 to 85 percent of the area is believed to be water ice, mixed in with dust and rock particles.
Though water cannot exist on the surface of Mars today, the underground ice is protected by a shield of soil. And while it only makes up a fraction of the estimated amount of underground ice on the planet, it’s believed The Utopia deposit is close enough to the surface that it could be used as a resource by astronauts who land in the area.
“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” Utopia study co-author Jack Holt said in a statement on NASA’s website.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
Study co-author Joe Levy said the discovery could also help scientists better understand the massive climate change the Red Planet experiences over the years and whether changing weather conditions ever were at a point where the ice may have melted, creating the conditions for life.
“We don't understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others," Levy said. "Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.”