Underground lake with liquid salt water found on Mars

Mars and its moons

All of that water is either locked up in solid form, however, or locked away in the distant past.

Researchers have long suspected evidence of water could be found on the Red Planet, a precursor for life on Mars.

Water is essential to life as we know it, and scientists have long sought to prove that the liquid is present on Mars.

An underground salt-laden lake has been found on Mars, according to Italian researchers.

"This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability", said Dmitri Titov of the European Space Agency.

"On Earth, it's nearly a given that if a ground-penetrating radar spots stronger reflections from the sub-surface than from the surface of the polar ice, then you are seeing liquid water".

An Italian team of scientists detected the lake while carrying out a radar survey using the Mars Express spacecraft. There are obvious parallels to Antarctica, where lakes have been discovered beneath glaciers in several areas of the otherwise frozen continent.

This particular lake, however, would be neither swimmable nor drinkable, and it lies nearly 1.6 kilometers beneath the icy surface in a harsh and frigid environment.

Mars is now cold, barren and dry but it used to be warm and wet.

"The liquid water is not a lake that you would want to swim in, locked away 1.5km beneath the surface of the Martian South Pole, the water would be a brine mixed with perchlorate salts".

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The tool is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS), and was created to find subsurface water by sending radar pulses that penetrate the surface and ice caps.

"We found that any other explanation for these very strong echoes was not really tenable in light of the evidence that we had available", he said.

Together with the pressure of the overlying ice, this lowers the melting point, allowing the lake to remain liquid, as happens on Earth, according to the study.

But researchers are excited about the potential for future finds, because if liquid water could be found at Mars's south pole, it might be elsewhere too. Credit: Credits: ESA, INAF. It sent radar pulses through the surface and polar ice caps and measured how the radio waves reflected back to Mars Express.

There is, and probably will continue to be, debate about the findings of this paper, simply because the implications of this discovery are enormous.

Associate Professor Alan Duffy, lead scientist of Australia's science Channel, said the ending of Total Recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger melted vast ice reserves just became less science fiction and more science fact.

There is already speculation about the presence of these "extremophiles" in the salty subsurface oceans discovered inside some of the icy moons in our solar system.

Researchers collected more than three years of radar data from the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission. There will undoubtedly be a flow of new discoveries. However, the latest discovery likely provides the "first evidence of life" outside the planet Earth.

"This is certainly not a very pleasant environment for life", he said.

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