Mars' equator may contain water ice
A review of past studies shows that there may be water ice at the Martian equator.

By Ed Mason | Jul 28, 2017

While scientists previously believed Mars' equator does not harbor ice, a re-examination of past research suggests that claim may not be true after all.

This new finding emerged when a team of scientists from John Hopkins University uncovered a large amount of hydrogen during their study ofdata collected by NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft between 2002 and 2009. That is significant because, while hydrogen typically indicates buried water ice, scientists thought the substance could only exist at higher latitudes.

In the study, researchers looked specifically at information gathered by Mars Odyseey's neutron spectrometer. They then usedimage-reconstruction techniques to reduce the blurring or "noise" in Odyssey's data.This improved the spatial resolution and gave them a better picture of the equator.

"It was as if we'd cut the spacecraft's orbital altitude in half, and it gave us a much better view of what's happening on the surface," said lead author Jack Wilson, a postdoctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, according to Space.com.

The scientists specifically focused on zones around the Medusae Fossae formation, which past studies have shown to potentially have volcanic deposits or water ice below the surface. Though many are skeptical that water ice is hiding in the area, the new research gives credence to the theory and could change the way scientists view the Red Planet.

If there is water at the equator it could help future missions to Mars. This is because astronauts would not need to bring as much drinking water or cooling equipment with them to the distant world. Rather, they could get some extra help from the land.

More evidence is needed to conclude the presence of water ice at the equator, but the study offers the first compelling evidence of the substance. If the it does exist, the team needs to next figure out how it is preserved.They currently believe it could have been brought down by ice and dust flowing from the poles, but such conditions have not existed on Mars in hundreds of thousands of years.

"Perhaps the signature could be explained in terms of extensive deposits of hydrated salts, but how these hydrated salts came to be in the formation is also difficult to explain," added Wilson, according to Astrobiology Magazine. "So for now, the signature remains a mystery worthy of further study, and Mars continues to surprise us."

The new findings are outlined in the journal Icarus.

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