Astronomers spot secret water supplies in solar system’s largest canyon

The discovery suggests that at depths of up to one meter (three feet) below the surface, the region’s soil is rich in water, either bound to minerals or in the form of groundwater ice, potentially providing a new way to locate the precious substance. on the seemingly extremely arid world.

“With the Trace Gas Orbiter, we can look up to a meter below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on beneath the surface of Mars – and, most importantly, locate water-rich ‘oases’ that haven’t been able to. be detected with the previous instruments. “said physicist Igor Mitrofanov from the Institute for Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Russia; lead author of the new study. It is possible that there is water below the surface, but other previous research by other Martian satellites has only found it at higher latitudes.

Cue FREND, or the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector. Rather than mapping the light on the very surface of the red planet, FREND detects neutrons. This allows him to see the hydrogen content of Mars’ soil up to a meter below the surface, the researchers said. Which, in observations taken between May 2018 and February 2021, he appears to have done.

We know there is water on Mars. We can see it, at the cold poles, bound like ice. This is where most of it seems to be; at the equator, conditions are too warm for water ice to form on the surface. “FREND has revealed an area with an unusually high amount of hydrogen in the colossal Valles Marineris canyon system: assuming the hydrogen we see is bound to water molecules, up to 40% of the materials close to the surface in this region appear to be water. “

“We found that a central part of Valles Marineris was full of water – much more than we expected. It looks a lot like the permafrost regions of Earth, where water ice permanently persists under dry ground due to the constant low temperatures. “Neutrons are produced when highly energetic particles known as galactic cosmic rays hit Mars; drier soils emit more neutrons than wetter ones, so we can infer the amount of water in a soil by looking at the neutrons it emits, ”said physicist Alexey Malakhov, also of the Research Institute space of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

But how this water was able to persist there is a mystery. The pressure and temperature conditions at the equator of Mars should prohibit the formation of such water reserves. There may be an unknown combination of geomorphological conditions in Valles Marineris that allows this, such as scattered isolated deposits that have been there for some time, or the angle and orientation of steep slopes. Viking orbiter mosaic showing Valles Marineris across the face of Mars. (NASA) The high hydrogen region is about the size of the Netherlands and straddles Candor Chasma, one of the largest canyons in the Valles Marineris system. In this region of Mars, minerals typically contain very little water, so researchers believe the substance likely occurs in the form of water ice below the surface.

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  • Title: Astronomers Detect Secret Water Reserves in Solar System’s Largest Canyon
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Arline J. Mercier