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The stays of a glacier have been discovered close to the Martian equator, suggesting that some type of water may nonetheless exist in a area on the pink planet the place people might someday land.

The ice mass is not there, however scientists noticed telltale stays amongst different mineral deposits close to Mars’ equatorial area. The deposits there normally comprise light-colored sulfate salts.

When scientists took a better look, they acknowledged the options of a glacier, together with ridges referred to as moraines — particles deposited or pushed by a shifting glacier. The analysis crew additionally noticed crevasse fields, or deep wedge-shaped openings that kind inside glaciers.

The findings have been shared Wednesday on the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Convention in The Woodlands, Texas.

“What we’ve discovered will not be ice, however a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic options of a glacier,” lead research writer Dr. Pascal Lee, a senior planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, stated in a press release.

“What we expect occurred right here is that salt fashioned on prime of a glacier whereas preserving the form of the ice beneath, right down to particulars like crevasse fields and moraine bands.”

The researchers consider the glacier was 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) lengthy and a couple of.5 miles (about 4 kilometers) huge, with an elevation between 0.8 to 1.1 miles (1.3 to 1.7 kilometers).

Scientists have an concept of how the imprint of the glacier got here to be, based mostly on proof of volcanic materials within the area. When mixtures of volcanic ash, lava and volcanic glass referred to as pumice react with water, a tough, crusty salt layer can kind.

This annotated image shows all of the details of where the glacier once existed.

“This area of Mars has a historical past of volcanic exercise. And the place a few of the volcanic supplies got here involved with glacier ice, chemical reactions would have taken place on the boundary between the 2 to kind a hardened layer of sulfate salts,” stated research coauthor Sourabh Shubham, a doctoral scholar of geology on the College of Maryland, Faculty Park, in a press release.

“That is the most definitely rationalization for the hydrated and hydroxylated sulfates we observe on this light-toned deposit.”

The volcanic materials seemingly eroded over time, revealing the salty layer that captured an imprint of the glacier ice and its distinctive options, stated research coauthor John Schutt, a geologist on the Mars Institute and an icefield information within the Arctic and Antarctica.

Mars has a skinny environment, which permits house rocks to collide usually with the planet’s floor. However the effective, detailed options of the glacier nonetheless stay largely undisturbed within the salt deposit, which leads researchers to consider it’s comparatively “younger.”

The research authors stated they assume the glacier existed through the Mars Amazonian geologic interval, which started 2.9 billion years in the past and stays ongoing.

A map depicts where the glacier remains were found near the Martian equator.

“We’ve recognized about glacial exercise on Mars at many places, together with close to the equator within the extra distant previous. And we’ve recognized about current glacial exercise on Mars, however up to now, solely at larger latitudes,” Lee stated. “A comparatively younger relict glacier on this location tells us that Mars skilled floor ice in current occasions, even close to the equator, which is new.”

The researchers don’t know if any ice stays beneath the deposit.

“Water ice is, at current, not secure on the very floor of Mars close to the equator at these elevations,” Lee stated. “So, it’s not stunning that we’re not detecting any water ice on the floor. It’s potential that each one the glacier’s water ice has sublimated away by now. However there’s additionally an opportunity that a few of it’d nonetheless be protected at shallow depth beneath the sulfate salts.”

In the course of the research, the crew additionally checked out historical ice islands referred to as salars in Bolivia’s Altiplano salt flats in South America. Blankets of salts have protected previous glacier ice from melting or evaporating, main the researchers to assume {that a} related situation might need occurred on Mars.

Details of the glacier can be seen in this high-resolution image of the feature.

Subsequent, the researchers wish to decide if any ice stays from the glacier, and if that’s the case, how a lot is current at shallow depths beneath the salt deposits. If this explicit salt deposit is defending ice, it’s potential that different pockets of ice exist close by.

Orbiters circling the planet have proven deposits of ice on the frigid Martian poles, but when water in any kind exists on the hotter equatorial decrease latitudes, it may have implications for our understanding of the pink planet’s historical past and potential habitability — and future exploration by people.

“The need to land people at a location the place they could be capable to extract water ice from the bottom has been pushing mission planners to contemplate larger latitude websites,” Lee stated. “However the latter environments are sometimes colder and tougher for people and robots. If there have been equatorial places the place ice could be discovered at shallow depth, then we’d have the perfect of each environments: hotter circumstances for human exploration and nonetheless entry to ice.”

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