Feeds

Martian south pole: water, not dry ice

Bad news for aliens in charge of special effects

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The southern Martian ice cap is mostly made of water, according to those clever boffins* at MIT.

Ice on Mars. Credit: NASA/MOLA Science Team

Ice on Mars. Credit: NASA/MOLA Science Team

The polar caps on the red planet were thought to be composed largely of a thin layer of frozen CO2, resting over a dust and ice mixture. But new analysis by MIT researchers, led by Maria Zuber, MIT professor of geophysics, suggests that the largest constituent is in fact bog-standard H2O.

Scientists have long wondered whether or not water ice existed in any quantity on Mars. But the polar caps were thought to be more likely to contain CO2 than water, because the atmosphere of Mars is so arid. (On reflection, that sentence rather suggests the presence of frozen water, but who are we to argue stuff like that with 20-20 hindsight?)

Zuber's team noticed that around the CO2 cap there was a smooth, darker region. Unsure what it was made of the team took a closer look. "What we found is that water ice is the dominant constituent beneath a thin dust veneer," Zuber said.

Drawing on topographical and gravitational data collected by three Mars orbiters, the team calculated the volume and mass of the ice cap. From there they worked out its density, and compared it to the density of water ice (about 1000kg per cubic metre), and frozen CO2 (roughly 1600kg per cubic metre). Based on their calculations, they conclude that at 1220kg per cubic metre, the polar cap is mostly water with about 15 per cent silcate dust mixed in.

"It's a really simple experiment, but you have to measure things very precisely," Zuber said.

Next, Zuber plans to run the same experiment for the northern cap. Unlike the south pole, this cap is not thought to be dusty, but it sits right next to a large area of dunes which are now thought to cover a significant amount of ice. ®

*Obviously not the ones who thought going to an airport with wires sticking out of a hoodie, and holding a lump of Play-Doh would be a really good idea.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.