Scientists Just Found a ‘Significant’ Volume of Water Inside Mars’ Grand Canyon


Scientists Just Found a ‘Significant’ Volume of Water Inside Mars’ Grand Canyon

A depiction of canyons (left), and Mars itself (right).

On December 15, 2021 ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (ESA) published scientific material to declare detection of significant amounts of water at the heart of Mars’ dramatic canyon system, Valles Marineris (Grand Canyon). The newly discovered volume of water is hiding under the surface of Mars, and was detected by the Trace Gas Orbiter, a mission in its first stage under the guidance of the ESA-Roscosmos project dubbed ExoMars. Gas Orbiter revealed an area with an unusually large amount of hydrogen in the colossal Valles Marineris canyon system: assuming the hydrogen we see is bound into water molecules, as much as 40% of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water. Igor Mitrofanov, the Russian Academy of Science’s lead investigator of the Space Research Institute, presented this discovery in the ESA press release.

Mars’ canyon water could be liquid, ice, or a messy mix

« The reservoir is large, not too deep below ground, & could be easily exploitable for future explorers, » read a tweet on the announcement from ExoMars. That sounds basically great! But it’s too soon for Musk to pack up his bags and fly to the site, since much work is left to be done.

A study accompanying the announcement, published in the journal Icarus, shows that neutron detection doesn’t distinguish between ice and water molecules. This means geochemists need to enter the scientific fray to reveal more details. But several features of the canyon, including its topology, have led the researchers to speculate that the water is probably in solid form (ice). But it could also be a mixture of solid and liquid.

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