Our efforts to escape this forsaken rock flying through space may have taken another step towards reality today as scientists have discovered some of the water ice below the surface of Mars is pretty clean.
Isn’t that just incredible – scientists can tell you about ice located under the surface of a planet 54,600,000km away – I couldn’t even tell you what’s in my fridge and that’s about half an hour away.
In case you haven’t been keeping up on the latest episode of I’m A Human Get Me Out Of Here, scientists have known for a while there’s ice locked under the surface of our nearest planetary neighbour in the solar system, but they haven’t been able to determine how deep it goes or how pure the stuff is.
And the quality of ice on Mars is pretty bloody important for future missions to the planet because it’s a long old trek from the nearest Greggs for astronauts to be to-ing and fro-ing for refuelling as such.
So far Mars landers have been able to dig or drill into a few centimetres of the surface but the contents haven’t been characterised for the first 20 metres or so.
However, NASA scientists have a knack at thinking outside of the box. WIRED reports they’ve put to one side the box labelled ‘NASA Mars Drill Lad’ – excuse the artistic license, that’s totally a punt at what their drills are called – and have pointed a powerful camera at the red rock and have discovered a way of observing what’s below.
Or as they put it:
Locate a spot of land laid bare by time, and you have a direct line of sight on Mars’ subterranean layers—and any ice deposited there.
With the help of NASA’s HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter they’ve uncovered quite a few spots.
Richard Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said:
On Mars, when you see something bright, it usually means ice.
…but the albedo readings on these exposed sections show that this is very bright stuff.
And the spectrometer readings support that this is water ice and not ice-cemented soil, which would be much harder to convert into water as a resource.
Researchers led by USGS planetary geologist Colin Dundas present detailed observations in this week’s Science magazine of eight Martian regions where erosion has uncovered large, cross-sections of underlying ice.
The volume of water they found is impressive, how mineable it promises to be is the real kicker. Deposits begin at depths as shallow as one meter and extend upwards of 100 meters into the planet.
While the researchers don’t estimate the quantity of ice present, they note the amount of ice near the surface is probably more extensive than the few locations where it’s exposed. And get this, it looks pretty bloody pure.
But before you start sliding into Elon Musk’s DMs trying to get a seat aboard the next off-peak SpaceX service to Mars, the planet is not quite as hospitable as you’d hope.
The eight sites that have been observed are all situated at upper mid-latitudes between 55-60 degrees north of the equator where temperatures can drop incredibly low.
Zurek explains it as:
If you wanna stay warm, it’s better to be in Hawaii than Alaska.
But the down side to warmer temperatures is the ice beneath the surface will be deeper into the ground.
That’s something you’ll want to follow up on and investigate before you put your base down.
The most optimistic predictions for human arrival on Mars is somewhere during the 2030s, when by my projected financial situation, I’ll be buying my ticket aboard another bloody Megabus.
Tim Horner is a sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated with a BA Journalism from University College Falmouth before most his colleagues were born. A previous editor of adult mags, he now enjoys bringing the tone down in the viral news sector.