Saturday, March 15, 2008

Massive water deposits spotted on Mars

Evidence presented at the 39th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference here in Houston, Texas indicates that significant volumes of water ice have been discovered in Mars' mid-northern latitudes. The Sharad radar experiment on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been looking at distinctive geological features called lobate debris aprons (LDAs). These dome-shaped structures are concentrated around the mid-latitudes in the planet's northern and southern hemispheres. By penetrating the domes with the Sharad radar, scientists were able to judge their geological makeup. Very little attenuation (reduction in signal strength) was detected, suggesting they were predominantly made of ice. Commenting on the likely concentration of water bound up in the features, lead scientist Dr Jeff Plaut estimated, "robustly, more than 50% ice by volume - but it could be much more." The ice is thought to have formed during the mid to late Amazonian era, the cold, dry period of Martian history which began around 1.8 billion years ago and lasts to the present day.