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Shallow ice sheets discovered on Mars could aid future astronauts

Exposed ice on steep slopes can also help reveal the Red Planet’s climate history

By
2:00pm, January 11, 2018
Mars ice

LOOK OUT BELOW  Erosion is revealing vast ice deposits in cliffs on Mars. The ice (white streaks in this image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) is buried under just a meter or two of soil, meaning it could be relatively easy to access on future missions.

Martian ice has a thin skin. The newly discovered exposure of ice on steep banks suggests that the Red Planet’s ice sheets are buried by just a meter or two of soil, researchers report in Science January 12.

“What’s new and exciting here is that these ice sheets start quite shallowly,” says planetary scientist Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. That could be good news for future astronauts hoping to use that water to drink, or to create oxygen to breathe or make fuel for returning spacecraft (SN: 1/20/18, p. 22).

Dundas and his colleagues used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite to observe eight regions where steep slopes called scarps seem to reveal ice. In 2008, the Phoenix Mars lander revealed

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