In 2018, scientists detected what looked like a salty lake under the surface of Mars' southern ice cap. Now, the new research has found more evidence of the lake and also revealed a number of smaller salty ponds nearby. It raises the possibility that there may be life on Mars.
Life on the red planet
In the new study, Italian scientists used the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding or MARSIS instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.
The radar covered a massive area of the Martian surface and gathered additional data, allowing the scientists to confirm the liquid nature of the previously observed lake, the research team said in a statement.
The scientists were able to gather more specific details about the lake, they were able to estimate that it is only about 30 by 20 kilometres or 18.6 by 12.4 miles, in area.
According to the statement, the presence of a subglacial lake could have important consequences for astrobiology and the presence of habitable niches on Mars.
The study was published on September 28 in the journal Nature Astronomy. It also said that the detection of several other smaller patches of water was very exciting and a new discovery.
The ponds, which were described as patchy water pools or wet areas of smaller extent on the study, are different sizes and separated from the main lake by strips of dry land.
The discovery is very significant as it gives the scientists a better idea of the climate in Mars and its chemical makeup. The fact that the lake and its surrounding ponds are still liquid suggests that they are hypersaline.
According to the study, hypersaline means that they contain lots of salts. This then lowers the melting point, preventing the water from freezing despite the cold environment on Mars, and it may have allowed them to survive for an extended period of time on a geological scale.
Because of this, there is now a question of extraterrestrial life. A study in 2019 suggested that 3 to 4 billion years ago, Mars may have been warm enough to host pouring rainstorms and flowing water, which would have created an environment that could support simple life.
But as the temperatures dropped, later on, the water would freeze. Mars is now cold and inhospitable. However, the latest research shows that Mars may have given scientists a bit of hope, according to The Guardian.
Hypersaline water bodies
The study said that the possibility of extended hypersaline water bodies on Mars is very exciting because of the potential for the existence of microbial life.
If there is life in the salty waters on the red planet, it could take different forms. The scientists speculated that there could be anaerobes or tiny organisms that do not need oxygen, or extremophiles, which can survive in extreme cold or heat.
There could even be aerobes or organism that need oxygen. Salty brines like the lakes or ponds hold six times the minimal amount of oxygen needed for microbes to breathe, the study said.
The study concluded that the water bodies at the base of the south polar layered deposits, therefore represent areas of potential astrobiological interest and planetary protection concern. The study is urging future Mars mission to target the polar lake region to gather more data.