Mars Express Finds New Evidence for Ice-Rich Layered Deposits in Medusae Fossae

Over 15 years in the past, ESA’s Mars Specific spacecraft studied the Medusae Fossae Formation, revealing enigmatic deposits as much as 2.5 km deep. From these early observations, it was unclear what the deposits had been made from, however the brand new analysis has a solution.

This image shows a height map of the Martian surface, with lowest land in blue and highest in white. Image credit: ESA.

This picture exhibits a peak map of the Martian floor, with lowest land in blue and highest in white. Picture credit score: ESA.

The Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF) — an enormous, uncommon deposit of soppy rock close to Mars’ equator — is about one-fifth as massive because the continental United States and 100 occasions extra huge than the most important explosive volcanic deposit on Earth.

It consists of a number of wind-sculpted options measuring tons of of km throughout and a number of other km excessive.

Discovered on the boundary between the Martian highlands and lowlands, the options are presumably the most important single supply of mud on Mars.

Preliminary observations from ESA’s Mars Specific spacecraft confirmed the MFF to be comparatively clear to radar and low in density, each traits we’d see from icy deposits.

Nonetheless, planetary scientists couldn’t rule out a drier risk: that the options are literally large accumulations of windblown mud, volcanic ash or sediment.

“We’ve explored the MFF once more utilizing newer knowledge from Mars Specific’ MARSIS radar, and located the deposits to be even thicker than we thought: as much as 3.7 km thick,” mentioned Dr. Thomas Watters, a planetary researcher at Smithsonian Establishment.

“Excitingly, the radar alerts match what we’d count on to see from layered ice, and are much like the alerts we see from Mars’ polar caps, which we all know to be very ice wealthy.”

“If melted, the ice locked up within the MFF would cowl your entire planet in a layer of water 1.5 to 2.7 m deep: essentially the most water ever discovered on this a part of Mars, and sufficient to fill Earth’s Crimson Sea.”

“Right here’s the place the brand new radar knowledge is available in! Given how deep it’s, if the MFF was merely an enormous pile of mud, we’d count on it to grow to be compacted below its personal weight,” mentioned Dr. Andrea Cicchetti, a researcher on the Nationwide Institute for Astrophysics in Italy.

“This could create one thing far denser than what we really see with MARSIS.”

“And after we modeled how completely different ice-free supplies would behave, nothing reproduced the properties of the MFF — we want ice.”

“The brand new outcomes as a substitute recommend layers of mud and ice, all topped by a protecting layer of dry mud or ash a number of hundred meters thick.”

In this image, the white line on Mars’ surface (top) shows a stretch of land that was scanned by Mars Express’ MARSIS radar. The graph below shows the shape of the land and the structure of the subsurface, with the layer of dry sediments (likely dust or volcanic ash) in brown and the layer of suspected ice-rich deposits in blue. The graph shows that the ice deposit is thousands of meters high and hundreds of km wide. If all the suspected water ice in the MFF melted, it would cover Mars in an ocean of water up to 2.7 m deep. Image credit: CReSIS / KU / Smithsonian Institution.

On this picture, the white line on Mars’ floor (prime) exhibits a stretch of land that was scanned by Mars Specific’ MARSIS radar. The graph under exhibits the form of the land and the construction of the subsurface, with the layer of dry sediments (probably mud or volcanic ash) in brown and the layer of suspected ice-rich deposits in blue. The graph exhibits that the ice deposit is 1000’s of meters excessive and tons of of km extensive. If all of the suspected water ice within the MFF melted, it might cowl Mars in an ocean of water as much as 2.7 m deep. Picture credit score: CReSIS / KU / Smithsonian Establishment.

“This newest evaluation challenges our understanding of the MFF, and raises as many questions as solutions,” mentioned Dr. Colin Wilson, ESA undertaking scientist for Mars Specific and the ESA ExoMars Hint Gasoline Orbiter.

“How way back did these ice deposits type, and what was Mars like at the moment?”

“If confirmed to be water ice, these huge deposits would change our understanding of Mars local weather historical past.”

“Any reservoir of historical water can be an enchanting goal for human or robotic exploration.”

The outcomes can be revealed within the journal Geophysical Analysis Letters.


Thomas Watters et al. 2024. Proof of Ice-Wealthy Layered Deposits within the Medusae Fossae Formation of Mars. Geophysical Analysis Letters, in press;


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