NASA discovers clean-water ice just below Mars' surface
The thick sheets of ice at these eight sites could provide the reservoir of water necessary for human expeditions to Mars.
For any future mission to Mars, finding water is critical. No one is holding their breath that they will find a lake of Evian bubbling up, but now scientists found what may be the next best thing—a clear view of several layers of water ice deposited right under the surface. NASA scientists used HiRISE, a powerful camera installed on its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to make the discovery of the ice in the faces of eroding slopes.
In a study published in Science magazine, researchers showcase details of eight regions of Mars in both northern and southern hemispheres where erosion left bare, large cross-sections of thick ice underneath. The exciting part of the find is not just the large amount of ice itself but how accessible it is. Some of the deposits are just one meter below the surface, while others extends up to 100 meters deep. We are talking a 100-meter-thick chunk of ice that can be converted into water.
The discovered ice likely started out as snow long ago. The scientists think the deposits are pretty pure water ice—a boon for future exploratory missions. The exposed deposits are capped by a layer of one to two yards of ice-cemented rock and dust.
The study’s lead author, Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, explained that the researchers were able to achieve an unprecedented level of detail in their study.
“There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars,” said Dundas. "What we’ve seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before.”
The co-author of the report, Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, was equally enthusiastic about their accomplishment:
“The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice," said Byrne. ”It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground."
The big takeaway from the find is that we now know at least eight sites where underground ice is accessible, providing a potential reservoir of water, necessary for human expeditions to the planet. Byrne joked that now it’s enough for astronauts to go to Mars with just “a bucket and a shovel” and they’ll have all the water they need. It will probably need to be separated from debris that ended up in the water over time, but you can make it work, say the scientists.
Since the locations of the sites are in the upper mid-latitudes of Mars, meaning that the temperatures get extremely low there, the scientists continue their search for more-landing friendly water spots.
You can read the study in Science magazine here.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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