Just below the surface of the Red Planet are vast quantities of water ice, but it remains to be seen how pure that water is, or what it means for the potential of life on the planet. What we do know is that future expeditions to Mars will rely on an understanding of the subsurface ice and whether it can be utilized for drinking, growing crops, and harnessing hydrogen for fuel.
Currently, Mars landers are only capable of digging into the first few centimeters of the planet’s surface. That means that the ice content is largely uncharacterized. Fortunately, scientists have discovered a site were understanding its content is feasible.
Researchers led by USGS planetary geologist Colin Dundas recently presented observations of eight regions where erosion has uncovered large areas of underlying ice—ice that looks promising for mining. The deposits start at one meter deep and extend upwards of 100 meters. Though they are uncertain about the quantity of ice, the researchers do believe it likely extends beyond the exposed areas.
At this time, the ice discovered isn’t very clear, indicating that boulders and sediment are dislodging from the ice in the form of. debris. That’s to be expected as the ice likely originated from snow, Dundas says, but doesn’t mean the finding isn’t promising.
“The spectrometer readings support that this is water ice and not ice-cemented soil, which would be much harder to convert into the water as a resource,” he says.
And there is likely more to come.
“I’m sure we haven’t found all the exposures at this point,” Dundas said.