Mars is home to several marvels, from its cratered terrain to its chilling temperatures. But recently, scientists made another startling discovery on the Red Planet: water, lots of it. Here's what researchers unearthed and what they think it means for the future of the mysterious planet.
It all started when the European Space Agency set off to study Mars further. With the help of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, initially launched in 2016, scientists were able to get a closer look at the planet's depths. Only what they soon found left them completely baffled: significant amounts of water, scattered throughout 15,800 square miles of the Valles Marineris.
The ESA/Roscosmos #ExoMars @ESA_TGO has spotted significant amounts of water, hidden beneath the surface, in the dramatic canyon system of Valles Marineris on #Mars 👉 https://t.co/0MvB0XN144 #ExploreFarther pic.twitter.com/T2mlvJxbrs— ESA (@esa) December 15, 2021
"We found a central part of Valles Marineris to be packed full of water - far more water than we expected," revealed Alexey Malakhov, a scientist at Moscow's Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "This is very much like Earth's permafrost regions, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil because of the constant low temperatures."
Sure enough, the massive body of frozen water - roughly the same size as the Netherlands - brought a new wave of questions within the scientific community. After all, the Valles Marineris - a canyon almost ten times longer and 5 times deeper than the Grand Canyon - is located near the planet's equator. In other words? Temperatures within that region aren't low enough to home water ice. So how did the area come to be filled with it?
"This finding is an amazing first step, but we need more observations to know for sure what form of water we're dealing with," the study's co-author Håkan Svedhem explained. But while there's still lots to be learned here, scientists are actually more hopeful than ever. "The finding demonstrates the unrivaled abilities of TGO's instruments in enabling us to 'see' below Mars' surface -- and reveals a large, not-too-deep, easily exploitable reservoir of water in this region of Mars," Svedhem said.
That being said, stay tuned. Who knows what other discoveries await us among the Red Planet!