• Tue. Mar 21st, 2023

Scientists learn indicators of ‘modern’ glacier on Mars


Mar 16, 2023

Remnants of a contemporary glacier have been discovered close to Mars’ equator, suggesting ice might nonetheless exist at shallow depths in the region. If confirmed, such a discovery could have important implications for future human exploration on the Red Planet.

Applying information from the Higher Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), researchers from the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute detected light-toned deposits (LTDs) on the Martian surface. These characteristics consist of light-colored sulfate salts, crevasse fields and moraine bands, which are indicators of a “relict glacier.”

This relict glacier is positioned close to Mars’ equator at 7° 33′ S, 93° 14′ W, and is estimated to be three.7 miles (six kilometers) extended and up to two.five miles (four km) wide, with a surface elevation reaching up to 1.1 miles (1.7 km), according to a statement (opens in new tab) from the SETI Institute. 

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“What we’ve discovered is not ice, but a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic characteristics of a glacier,” Pascal Lee, lead author of the study and a planetary scientist with the SETI and Mars Institutes, mentioned in the statement. “What we assume occurred right here is that salt formed on best of a glacier though preserving the shape of the ice beneath, down to facts like crevasse fields and moraine bands.” 

The presence of such a glacier suggests there might have been surface water ice on Mars far more not too long ago than previously believed, which has implications on each our understanding of the Red Planet’s habitability and future exploration missions. 

“This area of Mars has a history of volcanic activity. And exactly where some of the volcanic supplies came in speak to with glacier ice, chemical reactions would have taken location at the boundary amongst the two to kind a hardened layer of sulfate salts,” Sourabh Shubham, co-author of the study and graduate student at the University of Maryland’s Division of Geology, mentioned in the statement. “This is the most most likely explanation for the hydrated and hydroxylated sulfates we observe in this light-toned deposit.”

Interpretation of the characteristics on the “relict glacier.” (Image credit: Lee et al. 2023)

The LTDs observed are created up of sulfate salts that kind when freshly erupted pyroclastic supplies — volcanic ash, pumice and hot lava — come in speak to with water ice. As these deposits make up, they kind a hardened, crusty salt layer. More than time, erosion would have exposed the salt deposits, along with crevasses and moraine bands, which are exceptional to glaciers. 

“Glaciers usually present distinctive sorts of characteristics, like marginal, splaying, and tic-tac-toe crevasse fields, and also thrust moraine bands and foliation,” John Schutt, co-author of the study and a geologist at the Mars Institute, mentioned in the statement. “We are seeing analogous characteristics in this light-toned deposit, in kind, place, and scale. It is really intriguing.”

Prior analysis has discovered glacial activity close to Mars’ equator in the far more distant previous, whereas far more current glacial activity has only been noticed at greater latitudes till now. The current HiRISE observations recommend that these low latitude LTDs are geologically young, according to the statement. 

“A comparatively young relict glacier in this place tells us that Mars skilled surface ice in current occasions, even close to the equator, which is new,” Lee mentioned in the statement. 

Though water ice is not steady at the surface of Mars close to the equator at these elevations, it is doable that some of the glacier’s water ice might be preserved beneath the sulfate salts. Additional analysis is required to confirm, but if water ice is in truth present at this equatorial area, there is the possibility it could be extracted as a resource for future missions. 

“The wish to land humans at a place exactly where they could possibly be capable to extract water ice from the ground has been pushing mission planners to think about greater latitude websites. But the latter environments are normally colder and far more difficult for humans and robots. If there have been equatorial areas exactly where ice could possibly be discovered at shallow depth, then we’d have the ideal of each environments: warmer circumstances for human exploration and nonetheless access to ice,” Lee mentioned in the statement. “We now have to decide if, and how substantially, water ice could possibly truly be present in this relict glacier, and whether or not other light-toned deposits could possibly also have, or have had, ice-wealthy substrates.”

The findings have been presented (opens in new tab) at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas, on March 15. 

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