Researchers say the ice was likely deposited as snow long ago.
Buried glaciers have been spotted on Mars, in a "game changing" development that could provide unlimited water for the first human visitors to the red planet. "What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before". A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground.
The remarkable ice cliffs appear to contain distinct layers, which could preserve a record of Mars' past climate, according to the report.
They examined north and south pole-facing erosional slopes, known as scarps, in eight locations around Mars, all in the mid-latitudes.
So, if these slopes still look like ice after more detailed examination, they seem like a great location to study the history of water on Mars.
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"This kind of ice is more widespread than previously thought", Dundas told the journal Science, which is also publishing a report he and several other colleagues co-authored on the discovery in Friday's issue. They exist as pure water ice today, with rock and dust cemented in layers throughout it.
While he didn't participate in this study, he noted that the findings mentioned in Dundas's paper were of a completely different color than "normal" findings.
"We've found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will be of interest to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history", said Dundas, a member of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona.
The underground water ice deposits were previously mapped out by the MRO's Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument, but there were limits to what could be learned from those scans. "It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground". Thick sheets of ice have been found beneath the surface of the Red Planet.
Such structures promise to yield a layered record of past martian climates, similarly to how polar ice caps do on Earth.
"If we were to send humans to live on Mars for a substantial period of time, it would be a fantastic source of water", Matt Balme, a planetary scientist in Britain, said. When does ice accumulate? All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips. Terrestrial ice deposits are often mined to see what lies within, so perhaps one day we'll have the chance to sample Martian ice too.