What Lies Beneath

March 15, 2007

Studies conducted by University of Arkansas researchers suggest locations where future Mars missions might seek liquid water underneath Martian soil.

Graduate students Kathryn Bryson and Daniel Ostrowski, postdoctoral researcher Vincent Chevrier and Derek Sears, director of the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, will present their findings Friday, March 16, at the Lunar and Planetary Sciences conference in Houston.

The researchers used a planetary environmental chamber to simulate conditions found on Mars - a carbon dioxide atmosphere, 7 millibars of pressure and temperatures near zero degrees Celsius. Bryson looked at the evaporation rates of ice buried beneath fine-grained basaltic soil at depths of 2.5 to 50 millimeters.

"Soil layers only 5 millimeters deep slowed the evaporation process and greatly increased the lifetime of an ice layer," Bryson said. A soil barrier on top of an ice layer can enable the formation of liquid water by slowing the evaporation rate and warming the surface.

Ostrowski examined the evaporation rates of ice beneath montmorillonite, an aluminum-rich clay recently shown to be present on Mars. Montmorillonite is a hydrated clay that requires the presence of water in some form for its creation.

Studies of the clay soil indicate that the diffusion rate doesn't become steady as quickly as other non-clay materials do, possibly indicating that the clay is adsorbing water, either in liquid or gas form.

"This does not directly imply liquid water, but it does give the possibility if the conditions are right," Ostrowski said.

The upcoming Mars Phoenix Lander mission will be looking for environments similar to those investigated in these experiments, and scientists hope to find evidence for water - and possibly life -- in these regions.

Source: University of Arkansas

Explore further: Antarctic offers insights into life on Mars

Related Stories

Antarctic offers insights into life on Mars

July 21, 2015

The cold permafrost of Antarctica houses bacteria that thrive at temperatures below freezing, where water is icy and nutrients are few and far between. Oligotrophs, slow-growing organisms that prefer environments where nutrients ...

Perennial biofuel crops' water consumption similar to corn

July 6, 2015

Converting large tracts of the Midwest's marginal farming land to perennial biofuel crops carries with it some key unknowns, including how it could affect the balance of water between rainfall, evaporation and movement of ...

Rosetta and Philae at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

June 22, 2015

Rosetta has been exploring comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since summer 2014. In November 2014, the Philae lander landed on the surface of the comet. The first measurements by the scientific instruments allow conclusions ...

Recommended for you

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.