New Delhi: A new study from NASA has revealed that a huge underground ice deposit on Mars contains about as much water as what's in Lake Superior, largest of the Great Lakes.
Researchers using data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) found out that the deposit is more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico.
Scientists examined part of Mars' Utopia Planitia region, in the mid-northern latitudes, with the ground-penetrating Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARD) instrument onboard the MRO.
The deposit ranges in thickness from about 260 feet (80 meters) to about 560 feet (170 meters), with a composition that's 50 to 85 percent water ice, mixed with dust or larger rocky particles, according to NASA.
"This deposit probably formed as snowfall accumulating into an ice sheet mixed with dust during a period in Mars history when the planet's axis was more tilted than it is today," said Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, Austin. She is the lead author of a report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The ice deposit is covered by just 3 feet to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters) of soil.
"This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice," said Jack Holt of the University of Texas, a co-author of the Utopia paper who is a SHARAD co-investigator and has previously used radar to study Martian ice in buried glaciers and the polar caps.
Mars today, with an axial tilt of 25 degrees, accumulates large amounts of water ice at the poles.
Utopia Planitia is a basin with a diameter of about 2,050 miles (3,300 kilometers), resulting from a major impact early in Mars' history and subsequently filled. NASA sent the Viking 2 Lander to a site near the center of Utopia in 1976. The portion examined by Stuurman and colleagues lies southwest of that long-silent lander.