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Scientists question existence of liquid water lake under Martian south pole

The uncertainty of science: A re-analysis of the ground-penetrating radar data that suggested there was a liquid water lake under the Martian south pole has found that it might not be liquid water at all, but either “clays, metal-bearing minerals, or saline ice.”

The abstract can be read here.

The radar data, obtained by the European orbiter Mars Express, definitely shows a layer of bright reflection suggesting a layer of something different below the icecap. The research team decided to find out if other things besides liquid water could cause the difference.

They were able to determine what level of electric conductivity the material below the ice would need to have to match the observed signal from MARSIS. Then, they identified materials that are both conductive and present on Mars including clays, metal-bearing minerals and saline ice. “Salty ice or conductive minerals at the base of the ice sheet are less flashy, but are more in line with the extremely cold temperatures at Mars’ poles,” Bierson said.

While not explicitly excluding a liquid brine, the results open new potential explanations for the observed strong radar reflections, some of which do not require liquid brine beneath the Martian south polar ice cap.

Nothing is proven, one way or another. This research has simply underlined the uncertainty of the liquid water claim. We simply do not know what caused the bright radar reflection. All we know for certainty is that it is there.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Alex Andrite

    “All we know for certainty is that IT is there.” (emphasis mine)

    Love IT !! Cue movie title ……

  • Lee Stevenson

    @Alex Andrite, excellent!! You just gave me a good giggle! Thank you!

  • Patrick Underwood

    Breaking: Storm drain discovered at Martian South Pole.

  • We Are Borg

    Why the obsession with Mars? All the billions we spent on all the probes and rovers and yet NO shocking discoveries. There is no life on Mars, there was NEVER any life on Mars. You need way more than just water. For starters, the creation of even the most rudimentary elements of life requires some form of geo-thermal / volcanic activity to drive the chemical processes. Mars lacks that.

    Another problem: the core of the planet is too small and lacking in radioactive elements (like Uranium) to raise magma temperatures high enough to cause convection currents. Without these currents, volcanism, subduction, continental drift and other vital geological processes cannot occur. The small core also doesn’t generate enough electrical energy to create a magnetosphere strong enough to block the solar wind, even at that distance from the sun. Solar winds and high-energy particles were largely responsible for literally blowing away Mars ancient atmosphere.

    Look, I’m all for exploration, but funds are limited. How about we focus on building a proper ROTATING space station with artificial gravity? How about an intense effort towards doing mineral assays on the Moon, we can do all this stuff with existing robotics tech and it’s nearby for easy access. China and Russia control 90% of the world’s rare Earth elements, but Lunar soils may be loaded with the stuff. All you gotta do is get there and scoop it up, build a processing plant in Lunar orbit to refine it then make big bucks sending it back to Earth. Ok, it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the point.

  • We are Borg: Just so you know, it not that I have an obsession with Mars, it is simply that as a science journalist who focuses on reporting the most cutting edge planetary science, it happens to be Mars right now where that science is taking place.

    I would much prefer more missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and all the other planets, but I can only report what’s available.

  • Edward

    We Are Borg asked: “Why the obsession with Mars? All the billions we spent on all the probes and rovers and yet NO shocking discoveries.

    I suppose that depends upon what is considered a shocking discovery as well as whether exploration is supposed to make shocking discoveries.

    Why Mars?

    There are many who wish we would do more exploration of the Moon, for the reasons (and more) that We Are Borg noted. However, for the first half century or so of space exploration we chose to depend upon governments to explore space. This means that all we got was what those governments wanted, not necessarily what We the People wanted. Elon Musk wanted to have more space exploration, and he wanted commercial exploration, so that We the People could get the exploration that we want. In order to make exploration commercial, launch costs had to drop to affordable levels, so Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (SpaceX) to find ways to reduce those launch costs.

    There are many who wish to explore Mars, rather than the Moon, because for half a century we had expected Mars would be the next goal for human exploration. NASA and its master, Congress, have long seen Mars as the next major goal, but it has generally been thought to be too expensive to reach any time soon. To them, Mars is a good place to send robotic probes in preparation for the eventual human Mars mission and to search for life off the Earth. After the Viking landers, no one has been overly enthusiastic about working hard to find anything living today.

    Many people suffer from the impression that we could only choose one place to explore, the Moon or Mars, and this impression was formed due to the limited budgets that governments give to space exploration. Thus, with government interest in Mars, that is where the exploration money is concentrated. Government may not be interested in rotating space stations, because they probably think that the whole purpose of a space station is to take advantage of the freefall (microgravity), so artificial gravity would be counterproductive. Government does not have much imagination.

    However, with commercial exploration, budgets for corporate exploration projects will be set due to expected revenue and profits, and some of these would be from lunar exploration, and others would be from martian exploration (as well as Venus, Jupiter, Earth observation, etc.). Commercial exploration can allow for much more locations in space being explored, because the interest and the revenue possibilities will be available for the Moon, Mars, various Lagrange points, and other places in space. When commercial operators find enough customers for rotating space stations then they will start building some.

    With lower launch costs and with smaller, less expensive satellites and probes, we already are seeing more companies starting their own exploration with more satellites and probes launched.

    Robert posted:

    From the link in that post:

    the total cost of a SpaceX rideshare launch could be as low as $5000 per kilogram – incredibly cheap relative to almost any other option.

    Before Falcon 9, launch costs were in the neighborhood of $20,000 per kilogram.

    From Robert’s comment in that post:

    The world in general is seeing a renaissance in rocketry. The first half of 2021 has seen 59 launches. That pace could result in 118 launches during the year.

    Lower launch costs and lower satellite and probe costs are causing a renaissance in rocketry and in exploration and use of space resources. NASA is encouraging commercial robotic exploration of the Moon, and we should see those launched in the next couple of years or so.

    Many of us expect this decade, and the coming decades, to be exciting due to the increased commercial exploration and use of space resources. We the People will finally get what we have wanted for the past half century. Maybe even rotating space stations.

  • Andi

    “No shocking discoveries “ is in itself a discovery, is it not?

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