What Lies Beneath

Mar 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: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

There's something ancient in the icebox

17 hours ago

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

The Isthmus of Panama: Out of the Deep Earth

Apr 01, 2014

As dates in geologic history go, the formation of the slender land bridge that joins South America and North America is a red-letter one. More than once over the past 100 million years, the two great landmasses ...

Comet-probing robot to wake from hibernation

Mar 26, 2014

A fridge-sized robot lab hurtling through the Solar System aboard a European probe is about to wake from hibernation and prepare for the first-ever landing by a spacecraft on a comet.

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

18 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

19 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

19 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...