Nobody would have said it, but just under the floor of the famous Valles Marineris of Mars, which at 4,500 km long, 200 km wide and up to 11 km deep is the largest canyon in the Solar System, a gigantic amount of water, probably in the form of ice. In fact, according to a study carried out by researchers from the European (ESA) and Russian (Roscosmos) space agencies, up to 40% of the material closest to the surface of a vast 41,000 square km region in the center of the canyon could be water ice. The investigation, carried out with the orbiter ExoMars, will be published in ‘Icarus’ next March, but may
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Specifically, the ExoMars instruments found unusually high levels of hydrogen in Candor Chaos, a region the size of the Netherlands in the heart of Valles Marineris. And since here, on our planet, life is intimately associated with water, the finding reinforces the idea that the same could have happened on the red planet. Or even better, that there might still be living creatures there.
“We discovered that the central part of Valles Marineris was filled with water,” explains Alexey Malakhov, from the Institute for Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a co-author of the study, “much more water than we expected. This looks a lot like water. permafrost regions of the Earth, where water ice persists permanently under dry soil due to constant low temperatures. “
According to the scientist, if the hydrogen detected is really bound to oxygen to form water molecules, “up to 40 percent of the material near the surface in this region appears to be water.”
The ExoMars orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars since 2018, has instruments – such as the Fine-Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND), part of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) – that search for water by detecting neutrons emitted at or just below The Martian surface. As neutrons are formed when energetic cosmic ray particles hit the Martian soil, drier surfaces emit more neutrons than wetter ones, allowing the team to calculate the amount of water in a particular location. observing the amount of neutrons it produces. This method allows the TGO to detect, from the orbit of Mars, water up to a meter below the surface, which has greatly increased the ability of researchers to detect hidden pockets of water .
“With TGO,” Mitrifanov explains, “we can look up to a meter under the layer of dust and see what is really happening underground on Mars and, more importantly, locate water-rich ‘oases’ that could not be detected. with previous instruments “.
The easily accessible area has become a strong candidate for future exploration missions, during which astronauts will be able to find out exactly what kind of ice is present and, of course, if there was or still is life there.