The joke about water on Mars has been on the internet longer than I have. But all joke aside, astronomers have been searching for traces of water on the Red Planet ever since I can remember.
Earlier this week, researchers from the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute revealed a “relict glacier” they discovered on Mars. It suggests that surface water ice on Mars may have existed more recently than it was previously thought.
[Related reading: NASA’S photos reveal these weird circular dunes on Mars]
The groundbreaking announcement took place at the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas. In a study he released with other associates, Dr. Pascal Lee explains:
“What we’ve found is not ice, but a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic features of a glacier. What we think happened here is that salt formed on top of a glacier while preserving the shape of the ice below, down to details like crevasse fields and moraine bands.”
“Glaciers often present distinctive types of features, including marginal, splaying, and tic-tac-toe crevasse fields, and also thrust moraine bands and foliation,” says said John Schutt, a co-author of the study. “We are seeing analogous features in this light-toned deposit, in form, location, and scale. It’s very intriguing.”
So why is this finding significant? Scientists say that it implies “the presence of surface water ice on Mars in recent times, even near the equator.” This means that ice may still exist at shallow depths in the area, which certainly changes everything we’ve learned so far. It can have major implications for future human exploration and for for understanding the planet’s habitability.