Life on Mars? Liquid water lake found on the Red Planet

Mars and its moons

Mars and its moons

Evidence points to a body of water buried a mile below the southern ice cap on Mars.

Still, it's a breakthrough, the first substantial body of water found on Mars, not millions of years ago, but today.

The possibility of life on Mars, either now or historically, is still the greatest question left to answer about our nearest planetary neighbour, and it will now be up to future missions - such as the current European-Russian ExoMars orbiter and future rover - to analyse it up close.

With the surface of Mars even colder than it is in the Antarctic and Greenland, the water is likely to be a "briny sludge". (AAP) A provided image shows an artist's impression of the Mars Express spacecraft probing the southern hemisphere of the red planet.

It remains to be seen if more subsurface reservoirs of water will be found or whether the newly discovered one is some sort of quirk, Orosei said.

Professor Dempster said Australia had taken a leadership position on the matter, with University of New South Wales researchers examining business cases, mining methods, earth analogues, asteroid selection, asteroid navigation and other resources such as platinum.

This, however, is the best evidence to date of an environment on Mars that could be friendly to known forms of life - these "extremophile" bacteria - right now.

"This is a discovery of extraordinary significance, and is bound to heighten speculation about the presence of living organisms on the Red Planet", said Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

"We are fairly certain that there is liquid water below the surface".

The detection was made using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft.

The continuous white line at the top of the radar results above marks the beginning of the South Polar Layered Deposit; a filo pastry-like accumulation of water ice and dust.

Geophysicist Cassie Stuurman, who was not involved in this particular discovery, but who did discover a Lake Superior-sized glacier under Mars' surface, explained that the way ground penetrating radar works is by sending out radio waves, and then measuring the return waves that are reflected off the surface, and off boundaries between different materials under the surface.

These reflections "provide scientists with information about what lies beneath the surface".

Assured of their discovery, they published their findings in Science on Wednesday.

Among the 29 radar samplings, the scientists spotted a series of unusually strong reflections bearing a distinct electrical hallmark.

Scientists from the Italian space agency have discovered a large underground lake of what they believe to be pure water on Mars, which could significantly increase the probability of life on the planet.

Researchers said they are not sure how far down it goes, but that it may be around three feet (one meter) deep.

But he pointed out that similar salty subglacial lakes in Antarctica had been found to support life.

"This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments", Roberto Orosei, the principal investigator, said in a statement released by the agency.

"It is odd that SHARAD can not confirm this discovery".

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