The mixture of ice-brine confirms liquid water beneath Mars’ South Pole cap


A southwest Research Institute scientist studied the antifreeze properties of exotic salts present on Mars, which may have kept brine liquid at minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit.These studies suggest that a mile below Mars’ South Pole cap, salty water between ice grains or sediments is capable of producing the kind of strong reflections detected by radar instruments on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter.A Southwest Research Institute scientist measured the properties of a mixture of ice-brine at minus 145 degrees Fahrenheit to help confirm the possible presence of salt water between ice grains or sediments beneath Mars’ Antarctic ice sheet.Laboratory measurements carried out by SwRI geophysicist Dr David Stillman support the strange bright reflection detected by esa’s Mars Express Orbiter’s MARSIS Subsurface sounding radar.MARSIS has a 130-foot antenna that flies over Mars, transmitting radio waves to selected areas and then receiving and analyzing the echoes, or reflections.Any liquid water near the surface should give off a strong bright signal, while ice and rock would have a much smaller radar signature.Many scientists have questioned the existence of liquid water because traditional models assume that the Martian South Pole cap is much cooler than the melting point of water.Clays, hydrated salts and salted ice have been proposed as potential explanations for the source of the bright basement reflection.The Italian-led team used previously published data, simulations and new laboratory measurements in investigating the proposed phenomena.Lakes of liquid water actually exist beneath glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, researchers say, and exotic salts known to exist on Mars have amazing anti-freezing properties that keep salt water liquid at minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit.We studied these salts in the lab to see how they respond to radar.The researchers measured the properties of perchlorate brine in a SwRI ambient chamber that produces temperatures close to liquid nitrogen at Mars-like pressures.Studies have shown that we don’t necessarily have lakes of perchlorate and chloride brine, but these brine may exist between ice grains or sediments and be sufficient to exhibit strong dielectric reactions.It’s similar to how sea water saturates sand grains on shorelines, or how condiments seep into smoothies, at -103 degrees Fahrenheit beneath a mile of ice near the South Pole of Mars.The search for water in the universe has its roots in the search for potential habitability, as all known life requires water.That scenario brings us to places so cold that life as we know it can’t thrive, but it’s still interesting. Who knows what evolutionary paths extraterrestrial life might have taken?

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