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An Ice Sheet the Size of New Mexico Hidden in Martian Crater

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They found about as much frozen water as the volume of Lake Superior. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They found about as much frozen water as the volume of Lake Superior. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

An ice sheet with more water than Lake Superior may slake the thirst of future astronauts living on Mars.

Using radar soundings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiterspacecraft, scientists probed what lies in Utopia Planitia, a 2,000-mile-wide basin within an ancient impact crater.

For decades, the region looked intriguing because of polygonal cracking and scalloped depressions in the landscape. In places on Earth like the Canadian Arctic, patterns like these arise from ice beneath the surface. The ground cracks as ice underneath expands and contracts with the changing temperatures; the scallops, as if carved by an ice cream scoop, are places where the surface sinks as the ice melts.

“We’d say, ‘It looks like there’s ground ice there,’” Cassie Stuurman, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, said about Utopia Planitia. “What we haven’t known is how much is there.”

The New York Times, Nov.25, 2016

EarthSky, Nov.26, 2016

Gizmodo, Nov.28, 2016

Motherboard, Nov.29, 2016