Thick masses of buried ice found on Mars

March 3, 2010 at 9:15 AM
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PASADENA, Calif., March 3 (UPI) -- NASA scientists say they've identified thick masses of buried ice in the middle latitudes of Mars and radar mapping suggests the ice is commonplace.

The radar images were provided by the space agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is charting the hidden glaciers and ice-filled valleys that were first confirmed by radar two years ago.

NASA said the subsurface ice deposits extend for hundreds of miles in a region about halfway from the equator to the Martian north pole.

"We have mapped the whole area with a high density of coverage," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. "These are not isolated features. In this area, the radar is detecting thick subsurface ice in many locations. The hypothesis is the whole area was covered with an ice sheet during a different climate period, and when the climate dried out, these deposits remained only where they had been covered by a layer of debris protecting the ice from the atmosphere."

The researchers said the ice could contain a record of environmental conditions at the time of its deposition and flow, making the ice masses a possible target for a future mission with digging capability.

Plaut and colleagues presented the research this week near Houston during the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

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