Hypothesised more than 30 years ago, scientists believed that the base of Mars’s polar caps contained the presence of liquid water.
In 2018, the astronauts on-board the Mars Express spacecraft have managed to detect signs of liquid water on the subsurface on Mars.
With the help of the penetrative ground radar instrument MARSIS: Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, this 15-year old operation has discovered revolutionary information.
But just how does this new discovery change everything?
The Mars Express
A space exploration mission conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Mars Express is the first Mars exploration operation for the agency.
Meant to explore the planet Mars, the Mars Express has been in operation since 2 June 2003 with the spacecraft landing on the planet’s surface in 25 December 2003.
After successfully processing stored data from 2012 to 2015, researchers believe they have managed to detect a large subsurface lake.
What Is This Strange Body of Water?
Located near the south pole, the currently unnamed body of liquid water is believed to be a 20-kilometre wide subsurface lake.
This is not the first known subsurface body of water.
Antarctica similarly contains hundreds of subsurface lakes such as Lake Vostok.
How Will This Discovery Affect Us?
The discovery of this lake means many new things for us on Earth.
If the lake does indeed contain liquid underground, Mars essentially has all the components to successfully sustain life on its surface.
Organisms have been found in similar extreme and hostile environments such as Lake Vostok in Antarctica.
As Mars undergoes ice age cycles, the ice usually clusters around its poles towards the equator.
The absence of the crushing pressure from an above ice cap would cause the detected lake of liquid water to freeze.
However, if the lake is linked to a larger interconnected network of liquid water, life could still sustain on Mars. But, the lack of atmosphere on Mars might be unable to successfully protect life from cosmic radiation.
MARSIS has not begun to map either polar ice cap, so there might be more of these lakes on Mars.
Even though MARSIS is likely to reach the end of its mission soon, a Chinese probe is scheduled for launch in 2020 with a similar instrument to MARSIS on-board.
Mars’s underground liquid water reservoirs are hoped to be further understood in the years to come.
But for now, this new discovery has already made waves and will continue to forever change and affect our understanding of the universe for years to come.