Solar System’s Largest Canyon on Mars Contains Sunken Water Ice Reservoirs, Scientists Say

A dramatically large reservoir of ‘hidden water’ or ice has been discovered in Valles Marineris, Mars’ ‘Grand Canyon’ and the largest canyon in the solar system – and it’s so close to the surface it could help support a future Mars colony.

So let’s say that scientists are using an instrument aboard a satellite orbiting Mars that maps hydrogen in the topmost meter of Martian soil.

“Assuming that the hydrogen we see is bound to water molecules, up to 40% of near-surface material in this region appears to be water,” said Igor Mitrofanov of the Research Institute. of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia. .

Scientists already know there’s water ice on Mars at its hard-to-reach poles, but the dramatic landscape of Candor Chaos in the Valles Marineris – where the water ice was found – is miles away. lower and warmer latitudes where Mars missions tend to land.

Mitrofanov is the lead author of the new study published this week in the journal Icaruswhich details neutron telescope results from the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND) on the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

“With TGO, we can look up to a meter below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on beneath the surface of Mars – and, importantly, locate water-rich ‘oases’ that couldn’t be detected with instruments. precedents,” Mitrofanov said.

The possibly wet area discovered is about the size of the Netherlands, although it could be ice or water chemically bound to other minerals on the surface of Mars. “Overall, we think this water more likely exists as ice,” said co-author Alexey Malakhov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute.

The science was achieved by using the telescope to detect neutrons rather than light, with FREND’s higher spatial resolution making the discovery possible. “Neutrons are produced when highly energetic particles called ‘galactic cosmic rays’ strike Mars; drier soils emit more neutrons than wetter soils, and so we can infer the amount of water in a soil by looking at the neutrons it emits,” Malakhov said.

“We found that a central part of Valles Marineris was filled with water – much more water than expected,” he said. “It’s very similar to the permafrost regions of Earth, where water ice persists permanently under dry ground due to constant low temperatures.”

The discoveries make Valles Marineris ripe for future exploration by Mars rovers, although the terrain is difficult to explore.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, the first part of a two-part ESA and Roscomos mission to Mars, has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2017. In June 2023, the second part of the mission, the rover Rosalind Franklin, will land on Oxia Planum on the Martian surface.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

Arline J. Mercier