Martian equator might hold vast reservoirs of frozen water

November 14th, 2007 - 8:16 am ICT by admin  
Scientists have been puzzled for decades over the Medusa Fossae Formation, a group of mound-like structures at the equator of Mars. A variety of explanations have been offered, including that they are piles of volcanic ash, and that they are glacier-like structures made mostly of water ice.

Now, for the first time, radar sounding has probed the material 2.5 kilometers below its surface by using a ground-penetrating radar instrument called MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) on Europe’s Mars Express spacecraft. The way the radio waves interact with the material suggests that it must be either ice or an extremely porous rocky material.

Though the presence of unusually porous rocky material could explain the materials radar properties, it can also represent a huge amount of water, even more than what a polar ice cap might contain. If it turns out to be so, this can prove to be a potential water source for future human explorers.

According to Thomas Watters of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, “In terms of its radar properties, the Medusae Fossae Formation material is indistinguishable from the Mars polar layered deposits, which are nearly pure water ice. If they are water, the deposits would increase the amount of known water on Mars by 36%, an amount equal to all the water locked in Mars’s south polar cap.” Walters had led the probe team.

However, the possibility remains that the material could be made of a very fluffy, porous material, like volcanic ash. Susan Sakimoto of Notre Dame University in Indiana, favours this theory. “Porous rocky materials called tuffs, which are made from volcanic ash and resist compacting, could also explain the radar signal,” she said.

“Both of our interpretations - dry, fluffy, porous material or ice-rich material - make sense in certain respects and have problems in other respects,” Watters was quoted, as saying. (ANI)

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