Italian Space Agency (ASI) announced on Wednesday that a body of liquid water has been detected on Mars for the first time.
Using a radar instrument on an orbiting spacecraft, scientists have spotted what they said appears to be a sizeable salt-laden lake under ice on the southern polar plain of Mars, a body of water they called a possible habitat for microbial life.
The reservoir they detected — roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface — represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars.
Planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) said the data they received from the radar could not be linked to the presence of dry material and so they came to the conclusion that the only possible explanation for that type of reflection was the presence of liquid water.
Former ASI Chief Scientist Enrico Flamini said there is no doubt about the presence of liquid water in the subsurface of Mars and that there are all the ingredients for life. However he added that the Italian radar on board the European Mars Express probe MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) cannot detect life.
The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft that transmits radar pulses, which penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps.
The location’s radar profile resembled that of subglacial lakes found beneath Earth’s Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface. There had been some signs of liquid water currently on Mars, including disputed evidence of water activity on Martian slopes, but not stable bodies of water.