Water Signs on Mars Could Actually Be a Sign of Something Else

Mars’ watery reflections are explained by astronomers.
Cornell University astronomers claim that geological layers, rather than liquid water, are more likely to be the cause of bright reflections beneath Mars’ South Pole’s surface.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Even submerged lakes like Lake Vostok can have reflections that dazzling on Earth, according to study associate Dan Lalich. However, the general consensus was that it should be too cold on Mars for such lakes to grow.

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But the dazzling reflection still exists and needs to be explained, according to Lalich.

Lalich did simulations with four different materials—atmosphere, water ice, carbon dioxide (CO2) ice, and basalt—and assigned each layer a permittivity, a fundamental characteristic that characterises how electromagnetic radiation interacts with the material.

Reflections produced by simulations with three layers—two CO2 layers and a dusty ice layer—were as brilliant as those observed.

We know that CO2 already exists in significant amounts close to the ice cap’s surface, thus Lalich explained that he used layers of CO2 that were embedded within the water ice. However, in theory, I might have achieved the same effects by using rock layers or even unusually dusty water ice. The main argument of this research is that layer thicknesses and separations are more significant than base layer composition.

The models showed that the layers’ thickness and spacing had a bigger influence on reflection power than the layers’ makeup. “We have shown that it is possible to create dazzling reflections without liquid water,” the researchers stated, noting that no single simplified stratigraphy in the paper can explain every observation.

Lalich noted that due to the stakes involved, it is crucial to identify what on Mars is not liquid water. He remarked, “If there is liquid water, maybe there is life, or maybe we could use it for manned flights to Mars in the future.”

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Lalich does not completely exclude the possibility of liquid water, which might have significant ramifications for the age of the polar cap, the internal heating of Mars, and how the planet’s climate has changed in the geologically recent past.

None of the research we’ve done refutes the possibility that there is liquid water below, according to Lalich. “We simply believe that the interference hypothesis fits other observations better. I doubt that anything short of a drill could establish either side of this argument to be wholly correct or incorrect.

Reference: D. E. Lalich, A. G. Hayes, and V. Poggiali, “Explaining Bright Radar Reflections Below The South Pole of Mars Without Liquid Water,” Nature Astronomy, September 26, 2022.

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