New research challenges Mars water lake theory

New research challenges Mars water lake theory

Mars Water

Recent studies have cast doubt on the presence of a liquid water lake beneath the ice cap at Mars’ south pole. In 2018, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite detected strong radar reflections suggesting a 12-mile-long lake below the Martian surface. However, new research from Cornell University provides a less dramatic but comprehensive explanation for these radar signals.

Daniel Lalich, a research associate at the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science and the lead author of the new study, argues that the radar signals can be explained by constructive interference of radar waves. “I can’t say it’s impossible that there’s liquid water down there, but we’re showing that there are much simpler ways to get the same observation using mechanisms and materials that we already know exist there,” said Lalich. The new research provides a detailed and more realistic model to explain the bright radar reflections initially thought to indicate liquid water.

By simulating various layering scenarios, the team demonstrated that small variations in ice composition and layer thickness could cause radar waves to interfere constructively, amplifying their reflections. These reflections, while similar to those produced by liquid water, do not necessarily indicate its presence.

Mars radar reflections explained without water

Lalich’s study, titled “Small Variations in Ice Composition and Layer Thickness Explain Bright Reflections Below Martian Polar Cap Without Liquid Water,” published in Science Advances, outlines how the bright radar signals can be produced by known materials and conditions on Mars. “The idea that there would be liquid water even somewhat near the surface would have been really exciting,” Lalich said. “I just don’t think it’s there.”

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The potential existence of liquid water on Mars is a tantalizing prospect because it raises the possibility of microbial life.

While robotic explorers like NASA’s Perseverance rover have provided extensive evidence of ancient water flows on the Martian surface, the current conditions at the poles make the existence of liquid water unlikely. The temperature and pressure on Mars are significantly different from those on Earth, complicating the possibility of liquid water existing below the ice caps. Despite this, the search for life on Mars continues.

Scientists are exploring other regions and utilizing advanced technologies to detect signs of past or present life. The new research from Cornell underscores the importance of considering simpler explanations and thoroughly testing hypotheses before concluding the existence of liquid water.


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