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Huge ice deposits 'found' on Mars

Using data and images captured by the Sharad radar on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, scientists have discovered the frozen water in the Red Planet's mid-northern latitudes, far from its polar ice caps.

tech reviews Updated: Mar 14, 2008 12:16 IST

Scientists claim to have found vast quantities of ice deposits below the surface across great swathes of Mars.

Using data and images captured by the Sharad radar on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, they have discovered the frozen water in the Red Planet's mid-northern latitudes, far from its polar ice caps.

According to the NASA scientists, the ice is found in distinctive geological structures on the Martian surface that are hundreds of metres thick. "We would say, robustly, more than 50 per cent ice by volume -- but it could be much more," Jeff Plaut, the Chief Scientist for Sharad, said.

In their analysis, the NASA team looked at Martian surface features called lobate debris aprons (LDAs) which are distinctive, dome-shaped structures concentrated in the Red Planet's northern and southern hemispheres.

In fact, they concentrated at LDAs in the Deuteronilus Mensae region of Mars' northern hemisphere, where the features can be found at the bases of valley walls, craters and scarps of mesas.

According to the NASA scientists, the surface features formed in mid- to late Amazonian times -- the Amazonian being the cold, dry period of Martian history which began around 1.8 billion years ago and lasts till date.

"In the mid-latitudes of Mars, there were large volumes of ice that were deforming, at least, during Amazonian times... And may be they were in place during Amazonian times. And much of this ice is preserved today," the 'BBC News' portal quoted Dr Plaut as saying.

He suggested these thick ice deposits should be targets for future robotic or manned missions to explore.

"These are certainly intriguing targets for in situ exploration, conveniently placed at mid-latitudes," Dr Plaut said.