NASA maps ice on Mars just an inch below the planet's surface, narrowing down search for future landing sites

NASA has been scanning the planet to find the perfect landing site. And Arcadia Planitia is the most tempting one so far


                            NASA maps ice on Mars just an inch below the planet's surface, narrowing down search for future landing sites

Scientists from NASA have come close to zeroing in on a possible landing site on Mars. In the future, astronomers could perhaps land on Arcadia Planitia — located on Mars' Northern hemisphere.

This region appears to be hoarding water ice, just an inch below the surface, according to a new study that has mapped NASA's water ice reserves.

Just by digging the surface, astronauts can find the hidden water ice — a resource that astronomers can use to survive on the Red planet.

By tapping into the water reserves, astronomers can not only meet their drinking needs but also make fuel for their journey back home. This could bring down the costs, as it is impractical to carry something as heavy as water to far-flung places.

"You wouldn't need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel," says the lead author of the study, Sylvain Piqueux of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement

NASA has been scanning the planet to find the perfect landing site. And Arcadia Planitia is the most tempting one so far, according to NASA.

Thanks to data mined from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey orbiter, scientists have been able to narrow down the search for potential landing sites, where water will be within reach of astronauts.

NASA's Treasure Map for Water Ice on Mars The annotated area of Mars in this illustration holds near-surface water ice that would be easily accessible for astronauts to dig up. The water ice was identified as part of a map using data from NASA orbiters. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The more we look for near-surface ice, the more we find," says Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of JPL. "Observing Mars with multiple spacecraft over the course of years continues to provide us with new ways of discovering this ice."

In their search, most scientists have homed in on regions that are north and south of the equator. As good amounts of sunlight shine on these areas, they are warmer than the poles, say scientists.

Poles make for a non-viable landing site, they say. Though the region can boast of large amounts of surface water ice, it remains blanketed in darkness for most of the year, showing freezing temperatures for most of the year.

Of these regions, scientists are particularly interested in the Northern Hemisphere. In addition to warmer temperatures, the site could ease the landing process: more atmosphere means the spacecraft can have a slow touchdown. In that context, the Southern Hemisphere is not practical.

With this information, Piqueux and his team will carry out studies that will look at how the abundance of water ice varies with seasons. The study has been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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