If an extraterrestrial colony is ever established on Mars, humanity will be there Need water for various indispensable facilities – and of course to drink. Frozen water is abundant at the poles of the planet, but they are too high and access to sunlight for electricity is limited.
Where is the cold water?
Rather, the search is therefore for ice that is located at lower latitudes below the Martian surface and can be excavated from there. In a new study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, some locations are named that could be particularly suitable for this.
They were identified as part of the Mars Subsurface Water Ice Mapping (SWIM) project, in which data from 20 years on Mars missions are examined. The researchers worked on five different data collections from remote sensing from the orbiters Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaisance and the Mars Global Surveyor probe.
“Each of our five techniques uses a different approach or method to try to find signs of water ice,” explains Gareth Morgan, researcher at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona and lead author of the new study. Techniques include thermal and geomorphological mapping. It searches for geological surface changes that could have been triggered by ice that is less than five meters below the surface.
Massive snowfall millions of years ago
Morgan and his team found several locations in the northern hemisphere of Mars that seem to offer perfect conditions. These are the lowlands called Arcadia Planitia in middle to higher latitudes and the region Deuteronilus Mensae with many table mountains further to the east and a little south. Arcadia Planitia is an area of ancient volcanic rivers that is believed to have had massive snowfall millions of years ago. The new results suggest that this precipitate has moved slowly and not deeply into the subsurface, from which it could easily be drilled.
In Deuteronilus Mensae, on the other hand, there are relatively young glaciers. The region lies between plateaus with craters in the south and lowlands in the north. The ice there is a remnant of what was probably more extensive glacier structures from the past. It is likely to be located either under a two-meter-thin layer of Mars soil and stones or in a very porous material five meters thick. In either case, it would be easily accessible to Mars colonizers.
This first round of ice analyzes was funded by NASA with a focus on the northern hemisphere of Mars. Morgan suspects the reason for this to be that there are large plains in this region that would facilitate the landing of a spaceship. But he would be only too happy to analyze ice deposits under the surface of Mars in the southern half.
Problematic time window
“Opening up this work to the community lets all available skills come into play, both inside and outside NASA,” says Leslie Gertsch, a geo-engineer at Missouri University of Science and Technology who was not involved in the research. The next step now is to equip future missions with better ice mapping capabilities – “0.5 to 15 meters below the surface, that is, at depths that can be explored with technology for distance mining”.
In the meantime, NASA is already preparing to search for water ice on the moon. For flights to Mars A time window opens only every two yearswhich further complicates missions there. So it pays to think about such topics early on.
“The scarcity of sufficiently detailed underground information is what always makes the mining of raw materials a game of chance, even on earth,” says Gertsch. “But we cannot do without it so that humanity can survive elsewhere.”