Scientists find possible modern glacier on Mars in search of ice

Scientists think it could be a glacier hidden under visible salt deposits

Scientists believe a glacier may be hidden beneath visible salt deposits (Image: Nasa/SETI/Mars Institute/Lee et al)

Signs of a modern glacier have been found near the equator on Mars, which could be a great boon in the race to land humans on the red planet.

Finding substantial supplies of accessible water is a key goal for teams working to send humans to Mars. Previous research has focused on higher latitudes, where conditions are better suited to stable ice but also more challenging for humans (and robots).

However, the recent discovery hasn’t found ice itself at the equator – but what appears to be a layer of salt covering one.

Researchers from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the Mars Institute have discovered so-called Light-Toned Deposits (LTDs). These deposits, discovered using data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, are evidence of a so-called “relic glacier.”

“What we found is not ice but a salt deposit with the detailed morphological features of a glacier,” said lead author Dr. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist at SETI and the Mars Institute. “What we think happened here is that salt formed on a glacier while preserving the shape of the underlying ice, down to details like crevasse fields and moraine bands.”

The team theorizes that previous volcanic activity in the region covered the glacier with ash, pumice and lava blocks that reacted with the water ice to form a saline crust. Over time, erosion has eroded the volcanic layer and exposed the salt deposits.

Similar situations have been observed on Earth. On the Altiplano – the Andean plateau – in South America, the glacial ice was protected from melting under a layer of salt.

“The desire to land humans in a place where they could potentially extract water ice from the ground has prompted mission planners to consider locations at higher latitudes,” Lee said.

“But the latter environments are typically colder and more challenging for humans and robots. If there were equatorial locations where ice could be found at shallower depths, then we would have the best of both environments – warmer conditions for human exploration and still have access to ice.”


Teams around the world are working hard to send humanity to Mars (Image: AP)

The potential glacier is thought to be about 3.7 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, with coordinates 7° 33′ S, 93° 14′ W – which is roughly where the Galapagos Islands are on Earth lay.

Both NASA and China are working on manned missions to Mars. China is aiming to launch its first mission in 2033, while Nasa is aiming for the late 2030s or early 2040s.

Last year the agency successfully launched its new Orion spacecraft, which it hopes will take its Artemis III team to the moon in 2025 – a first step towards establishing longer-term habitation and a launch pad for interplanetary exploration. Earlier this week it unveiled its new space suit for the mission.

MORE : Nasa rover captures the clearest views of the sun’s rays on Mars

MORE: Nasa finds ‘conclusive evidence’ of ancient lake on Mars, raising hopes of extraterrestrial life Scientists find possible modern glacier on Mars in search of ice

Justin Scaccy

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