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Martian ice could sustain human outposts

13 January 2018

Huge ice sheets more than 300 feet deep have been discovered on Mars, making it possible that human astronauts could have access to nearly limitless water, scientists said Thursday.

Some of that ice is sticking out above the surface where it's combined with rocks and dust, making the ice a prime target for future lander missions.

"There've been suggestions that, when there's high obliquity, the poles get heated a lot - they're tilted over and pointed more at the sun, and so that redistributes ice toward the midlatitudes", Dundas told Space.com.

Scientists have spotted thinly buried glaciers of water ice on Mars that could one day support a human base on the red planet and help reveal the mysteries of our neighbor's long climate history. The scientists think the deposits are pretty pure water ice - a boon for future exploratory missions.

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Eight such geological formations with thick ice hiding very close to the surface have already been found on the Red Planet, and are seen by scientists as a valuable resource for potential human explorers of the faraway planet.

In spite of its dry appearance, about a third of the Red Planet actually holds shallow ground ice. "What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before". The ice-harboring areas sport few craters, suggesting they're quite young, geologically speaking, the researchers said.

NASA scientists used HiRISE, a powerful camera installed on its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to make the discovery of the ice in the faces of eroding slopes.

Here's how it works on Mars: When the planet is farther from the sun in its orbit, and it snows, that snow remains on the surface and becomes a buildup of ice.

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As with many things Martian, the work relies on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They were found at mid-latitudes (roughly the Martian equivalent of Canada or the UK) and occupied poleward-facing slopes. "You don't see a high-tech solution", Byrne added.

'Humans need water wherever they go, and it's very heavy to carry with you, ' said Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, a co-author on today's report.

All of this strongly suggests that the surface-level ice and the large subsurface deposits are connected, the authors say.

"If we were to send humans to live on Mars for a substantial period of time, it would be a fantastic source of water", Matt Balme, a planetary scientist in Britain, said. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips.

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For the first time, high-resolution images show the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars. We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate.

Martian ice could sustain human outposts