Take It As Red

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Wednesday, February 23


Martian Lake Found

Sounds like SF doesn't it? But according to this report in Nature, an area up to 500 miles in width and length and 50m deep at the equator of Mars has been found to consist of ice floes.

Mars ice on the left, terrestrial ice floes on the right for comparison
(Copyright Nature magazine)

"The pictures, taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board the European Space Agency's craft, show a flat plain close to Mars's equator that is covered with irregular blocky shapes. They look just like the rafts of fragmented sea ice that lie off the coast of Antarctica. The camera team presented its findings at ESA's Mars Express Science Conference in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, on 21 February. The results will be published by Nature in March.

"I was expecting glaciologists to be sceptical of our interpretation," says team member John Murray of the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. "But when I showed the pictures to an expert on sea ice, he was utterly convinced."

The researchers think that the camera has snapped a sea that froze about 5 million years ago, and was then covered by volcanic dust.

"Five million years might sound like a long time," Murray says, "but in geological terms it is virtually yesterday. This suggests that pockets of liquid water have existed throughout Mars's geological history."

Approximately 7% of Earth's surface is covered by sea ice, which is colonized principally by psychrophilic microorganisms. This extensive community of microorganisms contains algae (mostly diatoms), protozoa, and bacteria. Recent investigations indicate that the sea ice bacteria fall into four major groups: the proteobacteria, the Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides group, and the high and low mol percent gram-positive bacteria. Archaea associated with sea ice communities have also been reported. Several novel bacterial genera and species have been discovered, including Polaromonas, Polaribacter, Psychroflexus, Gelidibacter, and Octadecabacter; many others await study. Some of the gram-negative sea ice bacteria have among the lowest maximum temperatures for growth known, <10°c>

Psychroflexus bacteria from the Antarctic

There's obviously much speculation as to whether something similar may be living in the Martian ice: extremophile bacteria have been found living in similar environments like the McMurdo dry valleys in Antarctica, and buried deep in ice millions of years old in Lake Vostok. It may be just a matter of time before life is found on Mars.



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