The discovery of a “relict glacier” on Mars suggests that surface water ice may still exist on the planet, even near its equator, which could have significant implications for future exploration, according to CTV News. This finding may also change our understanding of Mars’ history and ability to sustain human life.
Previous missions to Mars have discovered evidence of ice on the planet. The Mars Odyssey orbiter, for example, detected large amounts of water ice in the planet’s polar regions, and the Phoenix lander confirmed the presence of water ice on the planet’s surface near its north pole. Additionally, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered that the soil on Mars contains about 2% water by weight, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified signs of hydrated minerals in various locations on the planet.
Pascal Lee, the lead author of the new study and who also works at the SETI Institute, stated:
We’ve known about glacial activity on Mars at many locations, including near the equator in the more distant past. And we’ve known about recent glacial activity on Mars, but so far, only at higher latitudes. A relatively young relict glacier in this location tells us that Mars experienced surface ice in recent times, even near the equator, which is new.
Lee also explained, as the same source quotes:
Water ice is, at present, not stable at the very surface of Mars near the equator at these elevations. So, it’s not surprising that we’re not detecting any water ice at the surface. It is possible that all the glacier’s water ice has sublimated away by now. But there’s also a chance that some of it might still be protected at shallow depth under the sulfate salts.
However, further research is needed to determine the amount of ice preserved under the light-toned deposits, which likely formed due to volcanic activity in the area.