Water would be found under the surface of the planet. It was spotted using the FREND instrument on board the ExoMars-TGO probe of the European (ESA) and Russian (Roscosmos) space agencies, the objective of which is to map the presence of hydrogen in the first meter of the Martian soil.
This chemical element is present in water as liquid, solid (ice) or gaseous (water vapor) water.
The water-rich area is roughly the size of the Netherlands and is located in the Candor Chaos valley of the canyon system, considered one of the most promising places in our quest for water on the neighboring planet Earth.
Most of the water sources spotted on Mars were in the form of ice in the cold polar regions of the planet.
There is no water ice exposed on the surface near the equator because the temperatures are not cold enough […], explains in a press release the ESA.
To date, a few Martian missions have found small amounts of near-surface water at lower latitudes on the planet. This water took the form of ice covering grains of dust or was trapped in minerals.
However, these missions have only scratched the surface of the planet, so that deeper water reserves can still exist, covered with dust.
With ExoMars-TGO, we search up to a meter below this layer of dust and can see what is hidden there. We can thus locate oases rich in water which could not be detected with the other instruments., explains Igor Mitrofanov, from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The FREND instrument thus revealed an area with an unusual quantity of hydrogen in the canyons of Valles Marineris.% of the near-surface material in this region could be water “,” text “:” Assuming the hydrogen we detect is bound to water molecules, up to 40% of the near-surface material the surface in this region could be water “}}”>Assuming the hydrogen we detect is bound to water molecules, up to 40% of the near-surface material in this region could be water., adds Igor Mitrofanov, who is the main author of these works published in the journal Icarus (New window) (in English).
We discovered that a central part of Valles Marineris is filled with much more water than we thought. It is very similar to regions of terrestrial permafrost, where water ice permanently persists under dry ground due to the constant low temperatures., notes Mr. Mitrofanov.
This water could take the form of ice, the researchers say, but it could also be chemically bonded to other minerals in the soil.
Overall, we believe that this water most likely exists in the form of ice., argues Alexey Malakhov, who also took part in the work.
More observations are now needed to know
with certainty what form of water we are dealing with, concludes ESA’s Håkan Svedhem.