Hidden Glaciers Are Common on Mars

Hidden Glaciers Are Common on Mars
The Shallow Radar instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has detected widespread deposits of glacial ice in the mid-latitudes of Mars. This map of a region known as Deuteronilus Mensae, in the northern hemisphere, shows locations of the detected ice deposits in blue. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Rome/Southwest Research Institute)

Vastglaciers of ice are common on Mars, but you have to dig below the surface tofind them, new radar views from a NASA spacecraft show.

Thesehidden deposits of buried Martianice were first confirmed two years ago, but recent scans of the red planetby NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are revealing new clues about how the icemay have gotten there.

Scientiststhink the Marsglaciers may have been left as remnants when regional ice sheets retreated.

"Thehypothesis is the whole area was covered with an ice sheet during a differentclimate period, and when the climate dried out, these deposits remained onlywhere they had been covered by a layer of debris protecting the ice from theatmosphere," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory inPasadena, Calif.

Theice extends for hundreds of miles, or kilometers, in a mid-latitude region ofMars called Deuteronilus Mensae.

Plautand colleagues recently used the spacecraft's Shallow Radar instrument toassemble a map of the Mars ice from more than 250 observations of an area aboutthe size of California.

"Wehave mapped the whole area with a high density of coverage," Plaut said."These are not isolated features. In this area, the radar is detectingthick subsurface ice in many locations."

Theresearchers presented the map at this week's 41st Lunar and Planetary ScienceConference near Houston.

Futurestudies of this buried ice could reveal more about the environmental conditionsat the time it was deposited. The glaciers could be a promising target for a futuremission to Mars, the scientists said.

TheMarsReconnaissance Orbiter is NASA's most powerful spacecraft currently inorbit around Mars.

Theprobe launched in 2005 and arrived at the red planet in March 2006. To date,the orbiter has beamed more than 100 terabits of data and photographs to Earth.That's more data on Mars than that collected by all other missions to redplanet combined.


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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the Space.com team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.