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Mars Space Science

Lots of Pure Water Ice At Mars North Pole 176

brink2012 writes "Planum Boreum, Mars' north polar cap contains water ice 'of a very high degree of purity,' according to an international study. Using radar data from the SHARAD (SHAllow RADar) instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), French researchers say the data point to 95 percent purity in the polar ice cap. The north polar cap is a dome of layered, icy materials, similar to the large ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica, consisting of layered deposits, with mostly ice and a small amount of dust. Combined, the north and south polar ice caps are believed to hold the equivalent of two to three million cubic kilometers (0.47-0.72 million cu. miles) of ice, making it roughly 100 times more than the total volume of North America's Great Lakes, which is 22,684 cu. kms (5,439 miles). The study was done by researchers at France's National Institute of Sciences of the Universe (Insu), using the Italian built SHARAD radar sounder on the US built MRO. SHARAD looks for liquid or frozen water in the first few hundreds of feet (up to 1 kilometer) of Mars' crust by using subsurface sounding. It can detect liquid water and profile ice. Mars southern polar cap was once thought to be carbon dioxide ice, but ESA's Mars Express confirmed that it is composed of a mixture of water and carbon dioxide. The study on Mars north polar cap appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union."
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Lots of Pure Water Ice At Mars North Pole

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  • by CompMD ( 522020 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:27AM (#26545457)

    This is the worst written summary I have seen in ages. With all the unit conversions, I wonder if this guy is a former engineer for an old NASA Mars probe team...

    • Yeah, and we STILL don't know how many Libraries of Congress or Volkswagen Beetles...

      Is the amount of ice at the poles sufficient to account for the watermarked features of the planet? A simple 'yes', 'no', or 'maybe if' answer to THAT question would be interesting.

    • He might have worked for Lockheed [].

      Or any number of contenders.

  • tough to skate on the canals in winter without water.

  • So Close (Score:5, Funny)

    by Punko ( 784684 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:34AM (#26545513)
    Sufficient Gravity - Check

    Sufficient Sunlight - Check

    Friable surface (soil) - Check

    Sufficient Source of water - check

    Sufficient Atmosphere - ummmmm

    Sufficient Magnetosphere - uh oh

    Cigar - Nope.

    Close, but no cigar.
    • Re:So Close (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sobrique ( 543255 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:50AM (#26545745) Homepage
      Close enough I reckon. The biggest inhibitor to colonization of Mars is not the atmosphere or the magnetosphere - those are possible to solve technically, and already have been for previous space expeditions.

      What's really not easy to deal with is water and oxygen supplies - if you have to haul every single kilo of water up the gravity well, you add a massive burden to the operation.

      The fact that we have large quantities of ice to work with, means we have both water, and - by virtue of solar power if necessary, oxygen from electrolysis.

      That's really the major ingredients that are needed to consider a place 'habitable' if not exactly 'comfortable'.

      • we have both water, and - by virtue of solar power if necessary, oxygen from electrolysis.

        With water? Forget solar power. We'll do power electrolisis with nuclear fusion.

      • solar power is crappy enough here on earth and even worse on mars.

        If we ever get arround to doing anything on a large scale on mars (rather than tiny little rovers that manage less than a kilometer per week) I would strongly expect it to be nuclear powered.

        still you are correct, water is very usefull for habitation (you can make oxygen and food from CO2 and water simply by growing plants)

      • by Don853 ( 978535 )
        Solar power on Mars would also have to contend with the global dust storms, which can last for weeks on end. Nuclear doesn't have that worry.
    • by jschen ( 1249578 )
      Of course no cigar! There's no tobacco. Not yet, anyway.
    • How about a cigarette then?

      Having relatively easy access to water makes long term habitation much more possible, the two deficiencies you mention are solvable.

      Sufficient Atmosphere - ummmmm

      Breathable gases can probably be harvested from the Martian soil. The primary thing is oxygen, and that is plentiful, if a bit bound up at the moment, on Mars. At best, the soil should have iron oxides which could be harvested, at worst we would have to crack it out of the water.

      Sufficient Magnetosphere - uh oh
      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        Or solar power from orbit micro-waved to Mars. While impractical on Earth, this solution could work well on Mars.

        I remember "Red Mars" suggesting to use wind power. The atmosphere may be thin there but the winds are strong. Don't forget also that solar power does not always mean solar cells : one can imagine using a Stirling engine or a regular turbine generator that would use temperature gradients.
      • A mixture of solar when clear and wind power for the dust storms perhaps. No fuel to supply, just generators. Making chemical batteries might be another option. Like you said though, a large stable power source will be needed, and nuclear is the only short-term answer.

    • Sufficient Gravity - Check

      Actually, it isn't. Mars has only about 1/3rd the gravity of Earth. Humans would still experience bone loss. However, it's work-around-able by spending less than an hour a day in a centrifuge.

    • by Sibko ( 1036168 )

      Sufficient Gravity - Check

      Err no... I don't think this is particularly sufficient. Part of the reason Mars doesn't have an atmosphere is because of its gravity. In all honesty, I don't think there'll be any actual terraforming of Mars until we can smash a couple jovian moons into it and increase its mass. [And possibly jumpstart a new magnetic dynamo.]

  • logistics (Score:2, Funny)

    by rarel ( 697734 )
    We're still looking for the way to get the Bourbon over there though.
  • Martian Water!

    4 billion years old, untouched by mankind!

    Unique solar system chemistry boosts your base DNA!

    Live longer!

    Improve your love life!

    Martian Water: Now only $1,000 a liter!

  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:35AM (#26545543) Homepage Journal

    We have a name for a mixture of water and carbon dioxide. It's called "seltzer water". With added impurities, it's sold as "soft drinks".

    Mmmm ... Martian dust cola. Satisfies your body's need for hundreds of trace minerals.

  • ... drinking "Exotic, pure Martian water" from 30ml bottles that cost $15000 a pop.
  • by fprintf ( 82740 )

    [blockquote]Combined, the north and south polar ice caps are believed to hold the equivalent of two to three million cubic kilometers (0.47-0.72 million cu. miles) of ice, making it roughly 100 times more than the total volume of North America's Great Lakes, which is 22,684 cu. kms (5,439 miles). [/blockquote]

    OK, so how many libraries of congress, or Niagra Falls is this? All joking aside, how does this relate to single units of glaciers or land masses, not non-continguous lakes. For example, how many Anta

    • Considering most of us have never been to Antarctica I am sure we would still have a hard time relating to this. We would need a more common reference point - and since more people have been to the great lakes then to antarctica that is a good choice.
    • It is about a tenth of Antarctica.
    • Best comparison I came up with was the Mediterranean which is a bit bigger, but not much.

  • Oil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eulernet ( 1132389 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:52AM (#26545751)

    Who cares about water ?

    Just discover petroleum on another planet, and there will be a tough competition to get there !

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Saturn's moon Titan.

    • by zx75 ( 304335 )

      No, no there won't. I'm sorry but oil is not *that* valuable, just look at the Alberta Tarsands. Anything below $60 a barrel means that they are operating at a loss and start slowing down production. Imagine how much it would cost to get oil from mars, or heck to make the argument easier lets suppose there is oil on the moon.

      How many billions of dollars would it cost to set up drilling, refining, liftoff, descent, and recovery operations? How many trillions? You will not only need to get equipment there, yo

    • No it won't. Have you any idea the amount of fuel, distance and time it takes to transport very small amounts of hydrocarbons our way? By the time we are able to extract fuels(which will cost billions upon billions) we are at least 30 years in the future(and that's a conservative estimate) and then we can ship maybe some thousands of liters back to earth taking several months and ample ampunts of fuel, making it a money sink.

      Time for the unmanned Phoenix probe to get to mars: Departure:4 August 2007 Arrival

  • To paraphrase the words of Hauser/Quaid, "Get [our collective] ass[es] to Mars!"

    Landers are cool, 'bots are cool, but people are better!

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @11:01AM (#26545859)

    and sending it down to hit store shelves?

    If they can have "iceberg" water, I'm sure Mars water will also have an audience: []

    Me? I'm going into the dihydrogen monoxide business.

  • mixture of water and carbon dioxide

    Club soda! I'll bring the cognac and lemon.
  • by Timberwolf0122 ( 872207 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @11:21AM (#26546123) Journal
    Staht Da Reactah! []
  • by RNLockwood ( 224353 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @11:27AM (#26546263) Homepage

    So the water is 95% "pure" - what's in the 5%? For comparison Earth's oceans are about 96.5% "pure" so the water on Mars certainly would not be drinkable without processing but that's fairly easily done, I think.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mbone ( 558574 )

      Remember that salts will not generally freeze out in ice, especially ice that forms by precipitation (as is assumed for the Martian poles). I would assume that the polar caps are very pure ice, with some dust and dissolved CO2. If you melted it, the dust would drop out, and the result might very well be drinkable.

      This is one case, though, where I think "Trust, but Verify" definitely applies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ozbird ( 127571 )

        If you melted it, the dust would drop out, and the result might very well be drinkable.

        You first - I'm not drinking anything containing cryogenically frozen Martian organisms.

      • Everyone seems to be forgetting that Mars is bombarded by constant radiation from the Sun. It's entirely possible that there's a wee little bit more processing to do :)

        I say "possible" due to the fact that I haven't researched the solubility of radioactive materials in water.
  • kick start (Score:2, Interesting)

    So, we somehow melt (some of) the ice, it evaporates to form oceans and clouds, which kick-starts a water-rich atmospheric cycle. Can someone more knowledgeable than I in these matters please explain whether there's any possibility of this working, or have I just seen too many sci-fi movies?
    • Well, for starters...

      So, we somehow melt (some of) the ice, it evaporates to form oceans

      I'm not sure that if you evaporate liqud H2O you get oceans as a result, you might want to check a phase diagram or something :)

      Also the amount of ice is much too little for what you are proposing.

      I think we'd have a higher chance of success if instead we tried to bombard Mars with captured comets... in other words, not much chance at all.

    • Liquid water cannot exist on Mars at any temperature, since the atmospheric pressure is too low (Google for "triple point" for an explanation).
      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        Not quite true - the low lying areas on Mars are above the triple point (in pressure - i.e., below it in elevation) now. For example, the Phoenix polar lander was above the triple point for the entire time it sent back meteorological data. (Of course, there it is consistently too cold for liquid water.) The Viking Lander 2 was above the triple point at times, below it other times (there is a large annual variation in Mars surface pressure, and VL2 was close to the edge).

        The bottom of the Hellas basin is ano

  • Ocean Equivalent (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:03PM (#26546893)

    Since Mars's Surface Area = 144 million km^2, this implies (for 2.5 million km^3 of ice) that ice caps are enough to supply a water layer 17 meters deep over the entire surface, or maybe 50 meters deep in Hellas and the Northern lowlands, if it was all melted. (If the polar caps entirely melted, that alone would raise the surface pressure above the triple point of water, so liquid water would be possible. The Hellas Basin is deep enough that the pressure is above the triple point now, and it definitely could have liquid water in it if the climate warmed some.)

    Note that the polar caps show very clear signs [] of layering [], presumably caused by the long period obliquity oscillations [], and are in general very young geologically, so it is not beyond belief that, say, the Hellas basin fills up with water on a regular basis, every 500,000 years or so.

    •   Even if those figures are off by an order of magnitude, we now know where all the water that carved the Martian surface went.

        That doesn't even include any other subsurface glaciers we haven't found yet.

        While it doesn't make Mars terraformable with current technology, it does lower the bar a bit. Large orbital mirrors aren't likely to work, and comet impacts will be redundant. Clean fusion devices might do the job.


  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:14PM (#26547079)
    The last few hundred years of human history have seen people gradually being forced to abandon our exceptionalism. From the belief that the Earth is the centre of the universe to identifying it as a small planet going round an only slightly above average star has taken about 500 years. The belief that human beings, despite having the same biological mechanisms as the other mammals, are essentially different in some magical way is in retreat. Palaeontologists are now assigning more and more anthropoid remains to the genus homo - Neanderthals are now considered merely a different race. But a lot of people are still kicking and screaming to believe that the Earth is somehow magically a uniquely habitable planet. This is perhaps why there was such resistance, first to the idea of water on Mars, then to admitting that there is a lot. The story of recent Mars exploration so far is that it is more like the Earth than expected. This is despite its size and distance from the sun - which raises the possible number of habitable planets out there.

    The last time I posted on this - pointing out that so far 100% of the actual planets we've explored have been inhabited - someone replied repeatedly emphasising the words "on Earth" - whereas my entire point was that this view is "Earth exceptionalism". Other than a few vague words in a book written over 2000 years ago by one small Middle Eastern tribe, we have no written statement on the subject (while most Indians religions support a plurality of worlds.)

    Mars may not be inhabited by life, it may never have been - but we are now seeing a lot more water than previously believed, and evidence of methane generation. The probability must be assessed as non-zero.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      >> why there was such resistance, first to the idea of water on Mars
      Really? I never heard of anyone resisting the idea of water on Mars. The most common element in the universe is Hydrogen. We're two-thirds of the way to water right from the get-go. Id be more surprised if there was absolutely *no* water on any other planet.

      >> Other than a few vague words in a book written over 2000 years ago by one small Middle Eastern tribe
      Are you referring to the Christian bible? Please point out which p

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The earth IS amazingly exceptional, we just don't know how unique it is.

      Frozen ice on Mars is great, and may make the Herculian job of colonising it or starting outposts later a bit easier. It still looks like its a sterile rock, raising self-sustaining colonies on antarctica and in the seas will be far easier in the short term (100 years).

      In contrast earth is a full ecology with macroscopic life so large it is visible from space. There may be 1 or even 10^6 equivalent biospheres in the galaxy (we don't

  • It may be 95% pure, but it's that other 5% that turns you into mutant zombies.


  • Surely they could do better than just 95% pure!

  • by More_Cowbell ( 957742 ) * on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @01:53PM (#26548653) Journal
    I came here for the Total Recall jokes; I can't believe I'm leaving disappointed.
    Oh, /., what has become of you?
    • Impossible! Once the reaction starts, it'll spread to all the users on slashdot. Slashdot will go into global meltdown. That's why the aliens never turned it on.

  • []

    You never know, people have been known to pay for the extraordinary.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley