A new discovery has just been made by scientists who studied data collected by ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The TGO revealed that there is a huge reserve of water at the bottom of the Martian canyon known as Valles Marineris. It is one of the deepest canyon systems on the Red Planet with a depth 5 times that of the Grand Canyon in the United States. Valles Marineris is also 10 times longer than the latter.
The FREND or Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector instrument located on the orbiter mapped the amount of hydrogen in the layer covering the surface of the region. The instrument can take measurements down to a depth of one meter. According to Igor Mitrofanov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences and lead author of the study, FREND revealed an area with an unusually high amount of hydrogen in the Valles Marineris system. Assuming that the hydrogen that was detected is part of water molecules, the researchers concluded that up to 40% of the material near the surface happens to be water.
This is a rather unusual site for finding water on Mars. Indeed, most water discoveries have so far been made in regions near the poles.
An unexpected quantity
According to reports, the area where the water has just been discovered is very large, about the size of the Netherlands.
According to Alexey Malakhov, co-author, they discovered that the central part of Valles Marineris was filled with water, much more than they had hoped for. He explained that it looks like the regions on Earth where permafrost is found. In these areas, water ice permanently persists under the dry soil due to constantly low temperatures. Malakhov and his colleagues believe that the water found in the canyon exists in the form of ice.
An exploitable resource
Hakan Svedhem, a researcher at ESA and also a co-author of the study, said the discovery was a very important first step. However, it will take further observations to know exactly what form of water exists in the canyon. In any case, the scientist described what they discovered as “large in quantity, not too deep, and a reservoir of exploitable water in this region of Mars”.
Scientists already speculated that there was water lurking on Mars, and this new discovery may confirm that. From the data obtained, researchers will be able to study in more detail the evolution of the planet Mars, and also better predict the places where we could find traces of old life.