"Underground lake" at the pole of Mars may just be dust and gas

Researchers at Cornell University have reanalyzed data collected by the orbital

by Mars Express. What was initially taken as evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet may simply be geological formations.

Many places on Mars have water, includingon most of both polar caps - all of it has been preserved in a frozen form. But in 2020, researchers reported that the radars of the Mars Express satellite detected bright reflections below the surface of the Martian layered deposits of the South Pole. These 1.4 km thick formations were composed of relatively pure water ice. Some scientists have interpreted the observations as evidence of liquid water.

In an article published on September 26 in the journalNature Astronomy, researchers from Cornell University report that while the presence of a liquid underground lake seems like an exciting idea, the anomaly can be explained differently.

Using computer simulations, scientistsshowed that such strong reflections can be created by interference between ordinary geological layers, in which there is neither liquid water nor other rare materials.

The researchers modeled the structure of the polarregion of Mars, consisting of three layers: two layers of solid carbon dioxide, separated by a layer of dusty ice. These materials have previously been found in the polar regions of the Red Planet. The study produced the same result observed by Mars Express.

Scientists note that the thickness of the layers and the distancebetween them have a greater influence on the strength of the signal reflection than their composition. This means that we need to be more careful in interpreting the results of satellite observations.

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On the cover: layered deposits near the south pole of Mars. Image: NASA, JPL-Caltech, University of Arizona/Provided