It may sound like an episode of Doctor Who, but scientists believe that they may have found an underground lake on Mars.
Blurry radar scans of the planet reveal what is believed to be a frozen, salty reservoir some 12- miles across and lying around one mile beneath the surface of the planet’s South Pole.
Water has been found on other moons in our solar system, but up until now it has been a struggle to find water in large quantities on Mars. If this image truly turns out to be an underground lake, it is likely not to be alone, and may lead to other exciting discoveries. It may show us what happened to water on Mars, give humans a potential secondary planet, and, thrillingly, may hint to the potential existence of extraterrestrial life.
Whilst Mars today is cold, sparse, and dry, chances are that billions of years ago it was home to multiple bodies of water and likely had a warm surface temperature. Scientists hope that investigating this lake can help solve the riddles of what happened to change the climate so drastically.
But don’t start thinking that we might be meeting the stereotypical little green man any time soon. “In this kind of environment that we know of on Earth, in the Antarctic, we have bacteria,” says Elena Pettinelli, who co-authored the paper on the potential waters of Mars and works at the Roma Tre University in Italy. “They can be deep in the ice.” The bacteria, therefore, may be similar to ones found in our own Antarctica.
However, it may be a fair while before we will actually know what lies beneath the surface. “Getting there and acquiring the final evidence that this is indeed a lake will not be an easy task,” says Roberto Orosei of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna. “It will require flying a robot there which is capable of drilling through 1.5km of ice and this will certainly require some technological developments that at the moment are not available.”
Unfortunately, it is possible that the lake isn’t really a lake – it might just be sludge, or rocks with large pockets of air, and, in fact, this is more likely than finding a giant frozen reservoir under the planet’s surface. But whatever the mysterious mass is, scientists are eager to learn more about it.