Ice cliffs found on Mars and NASA says they’re a tap for astronauts

Not so fast, please. Ask polar explorers and mountaineers how hard it is to get a drink

By Simon Sharwood


Mars boffins have spotted lots of almost-pure water ice on Mars.

Detailed in a Science paper titled ” Exposed subsurface ice sheets in the Martian mid-latitudes”, the find was made using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. The scientists who tend that instrument spotted patches of blue on the red planet, decided to look more closely and eventually found eight patches of ice.

The discovery is very exciting: cliffs seem to be the face of glaciers hundreds of meters deep and composed of water ice. Some of the deposits are under just one or two meters of dirt. Better still, they’re at latitudes of 55 degrees north and south. Such locales are nasty places in winter but less nasty than Mars’ super-frigid polar regions, so could perhaps be accessible from the kind of locales humans could set up presences on Mars.

NASA’s take on things includes an observation that “Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need," a quote it’s attributed to one of the paper’s co-authors, Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson.

'Water on Mars' re-classified as just 'sand on Mars'


Which sounds great until one considers what every traveller to high alpine or polar climes knows: ice is less dense than water and it takes energy to melt it. The “all we need in a bucket” scenario is therefore rather optimistic, as we don't know the density of Martian ice or whether it will need purification before consumption. And of course the tools to recover it will need to be schlepped to Mars.

Boffins are also excited by the finds’ potential to help us understand Martian history. Terrestrial ice deposits are often mined to see what lies within, so perhaps one day we’ll have the chance to sample Martian ice too. ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily


More from The Register

Sorry, but NASA says Mars signal wasn't Opportunity knocking

Mislabelled signal raised rover fans' hopes, just for a while

NASA's Mars probe InSight really has Mars in sight: It beams back first pic after touchdown

Vid Once solar panels are deployed, spacecraft can begin studying Martian underground

NASA will send tiny helicopter to Mars

VID Why crawl when you can fly? Because flying in a thin atmosphere is hard, but Mars 2020 will try anyway

NASA finds more stuff suggesting Mars could have hosted life, maybe

Organic material and methane finds can’t be tied to biological processes

Rocket Labs mean business, Brits stick pin in Mars map, and Japan celebrates HTV-7’s dive into the atmosphere

Roundup Another way ISS 'nauts can send stuff home

The Rocky Planet Picture Show: NASA Mars InSight ready for launch

80% chance you won’t see an Atlas V through the California fog

NASA has Mars InSight as latest lander due to arrive today

Then it's time to penetrate the Martian surface for science

NASA's TESS mission in distress, Mars Express restart is a success

Falcon 9 grounded while turning it off and on again works at ESA

Done and dusted? Vast storm gobbles NASA's long-lived Mars robot

Opportunity survived 2007 gale, but this one's way worse

Here's another headline where NASA is dragged through the mud for cheap Mars wise cracks

Pic Oh no, wait, that is the news. Except the cheap part