Do you have dreams of one day settling on Mars? Then we have some pretty exciting news for you.
In the latest issue of Science, researchers confirmed the discovery of easily accessible water ice located beneath the planet’s surface. Though scientists have known about water on Mars for years, these deposits are much different than those previously discovered. How so? They’re relatively pure.
“At these locations its quite a thick ice sheet of rather clean ice,” said USGS planetary geologist Colin Dundas, who was involved with the discovery. “There's certainly some amount of dust and debris in it, and there can be small amounts of salts or other things as well, but what we're seeing at the scarps are predominately ice.”
The size and purity of these ice sheets can be extremely beneficial for future missions to Mars. Not only can this water be mined for drinking or growing crops for long-term visits, it can also be combined with carbon dioxide to create oxygen or be converted into rocket fuel, which would significantly decrease the payload.
Over the course of five and a half years, Dundas and his team of researchers have analyzed images captured by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They eventually noticed areas of eroded topsoil that exposed vast deposits of ice, some of which were more than 300-feet thick and 3 to 6 feet underground. This means the frozen water could be easily minable.
“It’s looking more encouraging that water ice could be available at depths shallow enough that could be used as resources for human missions to Mars,” Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, told National Geographic.
But before you start packing your bags and preparing for your new life as a Martian, there’s one major problem: All eight sites that are suspected of having clean water ice are located about 55 degrees north or south of Mars’ equator, where temperatures are incredibly low. Past missions—and, most likely, future missions—target landing sites within 30 degrees of the equator. Though the higher temperatures within this range is beneficial to astronauts, it can push ice deposits further into the ground, making it harder to access.