A team of scientists have identified “micro-environments” on Mars which could contain temporary pools of liquid water, if the conditions are right. Water ice is plentiful on Mars, but there is little evidence that this ice turns into water.
This is because the Martian atmosphere is extremely thin – just one percent that of Earth’s – so when the ice melts, it sublimates, meaning it turns straight to vapour..
However, experts have identified small patches on the Red Planet which could temporarily host liquid water, in very specific instances.
A team from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, found that in mid-winter on Mars, and hidden in the shadows of boulders around the equatorial region of the Red Planet, the water ice could melt to form liquid water.
Computer simulations from the team found water ice and carbon-dioxide ice accumulate seasonally in these regions.
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When winter turns to spring and the Sun’s rays rapidly warm up Mars from -128 degrees Celsius to -10 degrees Celsius in just a few hours, the ice melts so quickly it does not have a chance to sublimate.
According to the simulations, some of the ice melts so rapidly, it melts into the salty Martian soil, forming liquid brines.
The salt soil prevents the ice from evaporating almost instantly.
Study author Norbert Schorghofer, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, wrote in the paper: “The possibility of liquid water on present-day Mars has been debated for half a century.
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“The possibility of liquid water on present-day Mars has been debated for half a century.”
“Melting is physically difficult under Martian environmental conditions, because with the total pressure of the atmosphere near the triple point pressure of water, evaporative cooling of ice is high near the melting point.
“Dust contained in the CO2 frost facilitates the formation of a protective sublimation lag.
“Overall, melting of pure water ice is not expected under present-day Mars conditions.
“However, at temperatures that are readily reached, seasonal water frost can melt on a salt-rich substrate.”
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NASA is set to launch a rover to Mars this year as the space agency ups the search for evidence of past life on the Red Planet.
The Mars 2020 Rover will also explore the Red Planet as preparation for humanity’s arrival, which could happen in the next decade.
NASA said: “NASA’s latest mission to Mars — a mission that will receive a new name before launch — will be the latest rover to head to the Red Planet, but it’s not going alone.
“To aid it in its exploration, it’s carrying the first helicopter that will fly on another planet.”