Feeds

NASA orbiter reveals buried Martian glaciers

Vast water ice sheets under rocky debris

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has identified extensive Martian glaciers buried under "protective blankets of rocky debris".

The glaciers - lying in the Hellas Basin region of Mars's southern hemisphere - stretch for "dozens of miles from edges of mountains or cliffs". Their discovery solves the mystery of the "aprons" spotted in the 1970s by Viking orbiters, described as "gently sloping areas containing rocky deposits at the bases of taller geographical features".

Artist's impression of Martian glaciers. Image: NASA

Scientists previously suggested the aprons might conceal "flows of rocky debris lubricated by a small amount of ice", but the truth has now been revealed. NASA explains: "Radar echoes received by the spacecraft indicated radio waves pass through the aprons and reflect off a deeper surface below without significant loss in strength.

"That is expected if the apron areas are composed of thick ice under a relatively thin covering. The radar does not detect reflections from the interior of these deposits as would occur if they contained significant rock debris. The apparent velocity of radio waves passing through the apron is consistent with a composition of water ice."

John W. Holt of the University of Texas said: "Altogether, these glaciers almost certainly represent the largest reservoir of water ice on Mars that is not in the polar caps. Just one of the features we examined is three times larger than the city of Los Angeles and up to one-half-mile thick. And there are many more. In addition to their scientific value, they could be a source of water to support future exploration of Mars."

The MRO has also spotted similar features in the Red Planet's northern hemisphere which, in common with their southern counterparts, lie roughly between about 35 to 60 degrees. Their rocky shield probably explains why they haven't evaporated at these latitudes, although how they got there in the first place remains a matter for speculation.

James W. Head of Brown University suggested: "The tilt of Mars' spin axis sometimes gets much greater than it is now. Climate modeling tells us ice sheets could cover mid-latitude regions of Mars during those high-tilt periods. The buried glaciers make sense as preserved fragments from an ice age millions of years ago. On Earth, such buried glacial ice in Antarctica preserves the record of traces of ancient organisms and past climate history."

The glacier-spotting team report their findings in today's issue of Science. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Rosetta science team thinks Philae might come to life in the spring
And disclose the biggest surprise of Comet 67P
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.