Massive, deep deposits of ice found on Mars

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Here's how it works on Mars: When the planet is farther from the sun in its orbit, and it snows, that snow remains on the surface and becomes a buildup of ice.

This is not the first time ice has been found on Mars.

While we've found plenty of ice near the pole during the Phoenix Lander mission, that's not a very convenient location for future landings (in part because the site ended up frozen over with dry ice during that pole's Martian winter).

Interestingly, scientists think that Mars' obliquity - the tilt of the planet's axis relative to the plane of its orbit - has shifted a fair bit over the past few million years, varying between about 15 and 35 degrees, Dundas said.

In today's issue of Science, researchers are reporting the likely presence of ice sheets in more temperate regions. Beneath one such large slope, an ice sheet is present that is nearly 330 feet (100 meters) thick and this result in the blue-black hue of the lands space.

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If you look at a photo of Mars, you'll mostly see red. Some of that ice was then covered up by the movement of dirt on the surface of the planet, saving it from sublimating - turning straight from a solid into gas. But details about the thickness of the ice, its composition and its layering have been hard to gauge-until now. The researchers examined eight different exposed ice deposits on the planet spotted by the orbiter's HiRISE camera.

The deposits were found at seven geological formations called scarps, with slopes up to 55 degrees, in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. That's thick enough for the orbiting camera to resolve different colored bands within the material.

Such structures promise to yield a layered record of past martian climates, similarly to how polar ice caps do on Earth. They're capped with a layer of rock and dust that's been cemented with ice. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips. The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers, which could preserve a record of Mars' past climate. They sequenced eight locations where erosion revealed the sheets. But of course it's hard to confirm the identity of the layers seen in radar echoes, and the instrument doesn't have the resolution to figure out how close the ice might be to the surface beyond "less than 20 meters". But because these newly discovered ice deposits are so much more accessible, they could aid the foundation of a permanent Mars base - or at least, could support future missions to study the planet.

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbors subsurface water ice.

Scientists have known for some time that vast ice sheets lie deep beneath the rusty surface of Mars.