That is the very best place for explorers to reap Mars ice

Water ice, especially underground, has long been a focus of Martian exploration efforts. There are many reasons why – from the need to grow crops to the need to create more rocket fuel to blow up the planet for a tour. Most of that effort has been focused on the poles of the planet, where most of the water ice was found.

Unfortunately, due to their weak sunlight and extremely low temperatures, these extreme latitudes are also difficult locations for manned missions. Now a team from the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) has mapped the density of water ice in much of the lower northern hemisphere to help narrow down potential human landing sites in more inviting latitudes.

The first signs of spring in the northern polar cap on Mars: dust fans triggered by sublimation of gas. Photo credit: NASA / JPL / UArizona

The project, aptly named Subsimface Water Ice Mapping (SWIM) of Mars, focused on a region of the northern hemisphere that lies just outside the “ice stabilization zone”, which is above 50 degrees in the northern hemisphere. In this zone, the temperatures are so cold that under the current environmental conditions on Mars, the ice is most likely stable.

At these latitudes, the sunlight available to any human mission would be too little to operate the necessary life support technology, making it unsuitable for a human landing site. Solar energy increases considerably further south, so that life support can be operated with solar energy in these regions. While SWIM didn’t cover the entire northern hemisphere outside of the polar region, it did cover most of them.

UT video about user ice for life in the country.

It used data from three different sources: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor, which orbits satellites. Five different types of data from these satellites were fed into a novel data processing algorithm to combine them into a fully realized “ice consistency map”. These types of data included thermal analysis, radar subsurface composition analysis (dielectric analysis), geomorphic mapping of periglacial features (ie, area around a glacier or ice sheet), neutron spectroscopy, and radar surface analysis.

Despite this wealth of different data sources, the PSI team still quickly points out that the level of detail carried out in this first study is not suitable for the selection of a landing site for a future Mars mission. Fortunately, such a mission is still in the early conceptual stages, so the team has time to examine areas of interest in the hemisphere more closely and to gather more data to create more detailed models of particularly interesting locations.

A vertically exaggerated view of the North Pole Cap of Mars. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona estimate that the massive ice deposits discovered in this region would cover the planet in 1.5 meters of water if they melted.
Photo credits: SA / DLR / FU Berlin; NASA MGS MOLA science team

This is exactly what they are planning – the next step in the SWIM project is to further analyze existing data and collect new data at these interesting locations. With a little luck, before a future Mars mission plan is implemented, they will have a nice detailed ice map of the surface of the northern hemisphere to help them choose a landing site.

Learn more:
Nature: Availability of underground water ice resources in the northern mid-latitudes of Mars
PSI: Water ice resources identified in the northern hemisphere of Mars
Space.com: This new map of the ice on Mars could guide future astronauts
UT: Nice picture of ice on the northern polar cap of Mars

Mission statement:
Overlap of the northern polar cap and the study area of ​​the SWIM study.
Photo credit: PSI

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