Mars reveals more frozen water

Planetary scientists have discovered another reservoir of frozen water on Mars. Using the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, researchers have discovered ice near the edge of Mars’ south polar cap, which is usually covered by frozen carbon dioxide.

COOL PICTURE. Infrared image of the edge of Mars’ south polar cap. Blue-purple regions indicate exposed patches of water ice. NASA/JPL/ASU/USGS

The researchers made their discovery because some carbon dioxide at the cap’s edge evaporated during the South Pole’s summer last February. Odyssey’s infrared camera revealed that an exposed kilometer-wide region was colder than neighboring areas.

Further measurements showed that the temperature in this region varied little between day and night, strongly suggesting the presence of water ice.

The frozen water appears to have persisted on the Red Planet for several decades, the researchers report in an upcoming Science. Images taken with the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft since 1997, as well as some from the Viking spacecraft in the 1970s, show signs of water ice late in south pole summers, report Timothy N. Titus and Hugh H. Kieffer of the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., and Phillip R. Christensen of Arizona State University in Tempe.

Odyssey’s temperature measurements indicate that an area adjacent to the patch of frozen water also contains ice but is covered by a veneer of dust.

“This water ice may be just the tip of the iceberg,” says Titus. “There may be a whole mass of water ice underneath the southern polar cap.”


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