Study shows lakes of water could potentially form on Mars today

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Mars
This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light, in this handout image provided by NASA. Reuters

Lakes of water that could potentially host life could form on the surface of Mars today, a new study suggests. Sources such as aquifers could help form large pools of water that could remain liquid for at least a year on the Red Planet, despite the freezing temperatures that may turn it into solid ice.  

The findings come from a simulation created by researchers at the Planetary Science Institute in the U.S to identify if pools of water could remain liquid in the current environment on Mars. It shows that flowing water that formed lakes about 65 feet deep are more likely to remain liquid for at least a year.

Researchers have found that a source such as an aquifer could provide significant amounts of flowing water that could remain liquid on the surface to form the feature known as a recurring slope lineae (RSL). This feature commonly appears on  slopes on Mars during warmer months.

The simulation involves a comparison of the flow of hot and cold water on the slopes. It shows that water that formed ponds at 10 feet deep would freeze almost immediately, while hot water, with a temperature of 77°C, could create a small lake and keep the layer of water beneath the surface liquid.

But cold water also has benefits, researchers say. Flowing water at a temperature around 2°C would help form an icy crust that acts as a thermal blanket. During summer season on Mars, this icy crust could melt and allow more water to flow down and form a pool.

"Nobody's doubting that liquid water was on Mars at some point," Jules Goldspiel, of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, told Space. "You could get it for a little while, potentially."

Earlier discoveries on Mars include beds of ice beneath its surface, and some scientists proposed that liquid water could also be present under its red dirt. Many astrobiologists also say that this sub-surface water might potentially be protecting life against the harmful radiation on the planet.

To date, Goldspiel has performed the simulation on Mars for only a year and is aiming to extend the period to determine how long a pool could last before it turned into solid ice. Estimates show that the freezing process would take three to four years.

However, Goldspiel believes that if water continuously “refills” and incoming hot water melts the summer ice, the pool would last longer in liquid form.

The study was presented on Nov. 12 at the 47th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbour, Maryland.

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