Ever since humans were able to ask the question, generation after generation have wondered: is there life on other planets? And since the discovery of its ice caps in the 17th century, the planet Mars has been a focal point of that discussion.
Well, we might be closer than ever to finding out if we’re alone.
Are We Alone In The Universe?
This past July, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter discovered something huge. The satellite spotted a twelve mile stretch of what appeared to be water underneath the Red Planet’s surface. Located near Mars’ southern pole, this “lake” is really more of a natural water reservoir, since its trapped under a massive strip of ice.
While scientists can tell what the body of water is, they can’t yet determine the depth. The radar instruments used to measure the depth have bounced off the water, and could not reach the bottom. Therefore, scientists assume the ‘lake’ is around three or four feet deep, but say it could be up to six. Researchers did discover, however, that the water temperature is around -68°C (-90°F). How is it so cold and not frozen? Scientists believe the liquid is a salt-heavy brine and therefore can withstand much lower temperatures.
Elena Pettinelli, a scientist at Roma Tre University, said that “if it is an open body of water, it may resemble Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica.”
Reaching the underground lake will take considerable time, as an entirely different set of tools are required. “It will require flying a robot there, which is capable of drilling through 1.5 kilometers of ice. And this will certainly require some technological developments that, at the moment, are not available,” explained Roberto Orosei, the lead scientist on the project.
This is the first time researchers have discovered a stable, identifiable body of water on Mars. Finding water on Mars considerably raises the chances of finding microbiological life on the Red Planet. Scientist believe they may discover life underneath the planet’s surface, just like this lake!
Life’s A Process, Even on Mars
Water is essential for any living creature, and the Mars’ lake’s freezing temperatures don’t make it the ideal environment for life. But as this is so new, no one knows exactly what this underground lake is capable of. Additionally, the surface of Mars is a harsh, intensely radiated environment. So, if it exists, Martian life has a long way to go. On the other hand, we’re thinking, working, and making assumptions in Earthly measurements. It’s entirely possible the lake might produce things we can’t even think of!
This discovery does help confirm what many scientists believe: life can survive on Mars. Until samples are collected and analyzed, however, it is impossible for scientists to know what Martian life will look like. One thing Orosei could confirm is that the discovery is “untenable.” Water was found, and therefore some sort of microbial life can exist. This will surely go down as one of the biggest scientific discoveries of 2018!