According to the European Space Agency, Mars has its own Grand Canyon, and scientists have discovered that this stunning feature is home to "large volumes of water," according to a finding made by an orbiter circling the red planet.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and Roscosmos launched in 2016, identified water in Mars' Valles Marineris. This canyon system is ten times the length, five times the depth, and twenty times the width of the Grand Canyon.
The water is under the canyon system's surface and was found by the orbiter's FREND instrument, which stands for Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector. This sensor has the capability of mapping hydrogen in the top meter of Martian soil.
The majority of water on Mars is found in the planet's polar regions, where it remains frozen as water ice. Valles Marineris is located just south of the planet's equator, where temperatures are usually too warm for water ice to form.
The orbiter acquired the observations between May 2018 and February 2021. Other orbiters have previously searched for water just beneath the Martian surface and discovered modest quantities beneath the Martian dust. The findings were detailed in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Icarus.
"With (the Trace Gas Orbiter), we can look down to one metre below this dusty layer and see what's really going on beneath Mars' surface – and, crucially, locate water-rich 'oases' that previous instruments couldn't detect," said study author and FREND neutron telescope principal investigator Igor Mitrofanov in a statement.
"FREND discovered a place with an abnormally high concentration of hydrogen in the vast Valles Marineris canyon system: if the hydrogen we detect is bonded into water molecules, as much as 40% of the near-surface material in this region looks to be water."
To put it in context, this area is roughly the size of the Netherlands. Candor Chaos, a network of valleys inside the canyon system, overlaps with it.
The FREND device looks for neutrons in order to map the hydrogen concentration of Martian soil.
The instrument's unique observing skills enabled the scientists to locate previously concealed water, according to Malakhov. This might be water ice or water bonded to minerals in the soil. The existence of ice, however, is more plausible, according to the experts, because the minerals at this site contain less water.
Because Mars has greater temperatures towards the equator, the researchers believe there must be some unique combination of variables that allow the water to exist and be replenished.
The European Rosalind Franklin rover and the Russian surface platform Kazachok will launch in 2022 and are scheduled to settle on Mars in 2023. The rover will drill into Mars' surface in search of organic material that might tell if Mars ever supported life. Oxia Planum, a place of exposed, old clay-rich rocks that were formerly exposed to water, will be explored by the rover.