NASA released a study of its treasure map for water on Mars and it may just help determine where future astronauts land if they ever visit the Red Planet. Why? Because water is essential to life and only so much can be carried on the spacecraft.
Just an inch below the surface
Luckily, NASA has spotted spots on the planet that have water just an inch below the surface. "You wouldn't need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel," said the study's lead author, Sylvain Piqueux of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"We're continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land."
This process of looking for available resources on a visiting planet is called "in situ resource utilization" by NASA and it could be part of what makes travel to other planets viable. It is the reason NASA has satellites orbiting Mars exploring its surface.
The new study makes use of information from two spacecraft, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey orbiter, to create its treasure map for Martian water. This process is further complicated by the fact that water does not last long in the Martian atmosphere.
It goes quickly from a liquid to a gas that evaporates. Therefore it is necessary to find the water as ice that can be dug up.
To achieve this, NASA used two heat-sensitive instruments: MRO's Mars Climate Sounder and the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on Mars Odyssey. These tools were able to identify a region called Arcadia Planitia in the northern hemisphere.
This region has water ice less than one foot (30 centimeters) below the surface as well as areas where a landing spacecraft could sink into a fine dust. But that's not the only promising spot for a good landing.
"The more we look for near-surface ice, the more we find," said MRO 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."
The study is published in Geophysical Research Letters.