About as much frozen water is found beneath a region of fissured plains on Mars as in Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. These are the results of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin.
Utopia Planitia (or « the plains of paradise » as we might vulgarly translate it) is a vast flat and smooth area that could easily accommodate the landing of a spaceship. And for good reason, this basin of about 3,300 km wide resulting from a major impact that occurred at the beginning of the history of Mars would house a gigantic deposit of ice trapped a few meters deep (between 1 and 10 meters). According to data collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, this underground ice deposit would contain as much water as Lake Superior and cover an area larger than the state of New Mexico.
Analysis of data from more than 600 air passes show a deposit ranging in thickness from 80 to 170 meters and composed of 50 to 85% water ice (a volume equivalent to that of Lake Superior which holds 12,090 cubic kilometers of water) mixed with dust and other larger rock particles. Excellent news for future space missions, as suggested by Jack Holt, of the University of Texas (Austin) and co-author of this study:
» This ice deposit represents a vast possible resource for future astronauts who will come to explore the Red Planet « . This deposit is probably more accessible than most other water ice deposits already spotted on Mars, because it’s at a relatively low latitude and in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than on some areas where ice is buried “, continues the researcher in a press release.
Note that the data collected by the SHARAD radar installed on the NASA orbiter confirms that all the water buried under the plains of Utopia Planitia is completely frozen. Bad news for anyone hoping to find evidence of life on Mars, as life on Earth is intimately linked to water in liquid form.