A Massive, and Very Accessible Ice Deposit on Mars

Ice, Ice, Baby Credit: NASA/ Hubble Space Telescope

Ice, Ice, Baby
Credit: NASA/ Hubble Space Telescope

For future colonists, Mars’ Utopia Planitia  or “Plains of Paradise” may be rather aptly named despite its less than appealing appearance. In a paper highlighted last week on NASA.gov, scientists using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s shallow ground penetrating radar (SHARAD) have concluded that the region contains a volume of ice equivalent to the amount of water in North America’s Lake Superior.

From the story:

“Analyses of data from more than 600 overhead passes with the onboard radar instrument reveal a deposit more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico. The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet (80 meters) to about 560 feet (170 meters), with a composition that’s 50 to 85 percent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles.”

“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,” said Jack Holt of the University of Texas, a co-author of the Utopia paper who is a SHARAD co-investigator and has previously used radar to study Martian ice in buried glaciers and the polar caps.”

Viking 2 Looks Over Utopia Planitia

Viking 2 Looks Over Utopia Planitia

What may come as something of a surprise, particularly to those who grew up with the understanding that Mars is a cold, dead and very dry world, is the fact that while the first two adjectives still apply, the latter one was badly in error. To that point, the water ice identified in the paper comprises less than 1% of the known ice deposits located on the Red Planet.


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