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Underground lake found on Mars by Italian researchers

Image Source NASA  JPL-Caltech  MSSS  MGN

But, he cautions, "I'd say it's not quite the smoking gun".

Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water, ' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected.

Lake Whillans is buried some 800m below the ice in West Antarctica. That it was teeming with microbial life. On Earth, places like these are home to bacteria adapted to the extreme conditions of sub-glacial, briny lakes.

"The estimated temperature, which is to be debated to some degree, at the depth at which this water is occurring is said to be 205 K [90˚ F]", said Vlada Stamenković, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That suggests that the water is brim full of salts, allowing it to melt.

Antarctica has salty lakes, including Don Juan Pond, which is 18-times saltier than seawater, Priscu said. This would lower the water's freezing temperature, and combined with the pressures exerted by the 1.5 kilometres of ice above it, it would be prevented from freezing solid.

Life adapts to changing environments, so long as that change is not too fast or dramatic.

Marsis was not able to determine how thick the layer of water might be, but the research team estimated that it was a minimum of one metre.

The scientists analyzed radar profiles, within a 200 km-wide area, collected between May 2012 and December 2015. That's because the radar works best at night and when it's within 500 miles of the planet's surface.

A screengrab from animation of the Martian poles with ice caps. Using ice-penetrating radar from orbit, researchers from the Italian Space Agency reportedly found a lake deep beneath the Red Planet's polar ice caps. "Drilling down kilometers to get to the base of the ice, where this putative subglacial liquid water detection was made, would require a large investment into expanding the engineering capabilities that we have today in order to accomplish deep coring remotely on another planet", Bramson says.

But until now evidence from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, MARSIS, the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet, remained inconclusive.

They spent at least two years examining the data to make sure they'd detected water, not ice or another substance. The higher the chances of liquid water at a site, the more important it is to explore it.

"There's nothing special about this location other than the MARSIS radar on the Mars Express spacecraft is most sensitive to that region meaning there are likely similar water deposits below the ground all across Mars". The antenna on the spacecraft receives the radar waves returned by the rock before the pulse returned by the water.

The view of Mars shown here was assembled from MOC daily global images obtained on May 12, 2003.

So, what's next? The measurements need to be repeated, hopefully by other instruments, such as the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), in order to rule out all other explanations.

From left, Italian astrophysicists Roberto Orosei, Elena Pettinelli and Enrico Flamini poses for photographers with a replica of Cosmo-SkyMed radar satellites, at the Italian Space Agency headquarters prior to a press conference in Rome, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Such salts are known to exist in abundance in some Martian rocks, and are the most likely cause of the dewlike droplets and crater-wall rivulets previously observed on the planet's surface. The nature of reflections off the subterranean features offer scientists information about exactly what lies beneath the surface and the data says there is liquid water.