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One of our most incredible discoveries on Mars might just be a mirage

Published Jan 24th, 2022 9:33PM EST
South polar cap on Mars

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Way back in 2018, scientists discovered the Martian south pole. It was an incredible find. At the time, it garnered a lot of hope that the surface of the planet could still house groundwater. Unfortunately, the new study may have dashed those hopes. A new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reports that the reflections they believed to be water buried under Martian polar ice caps are most likely just volcanic rock.

Our beliefs about the Martian south pole might be wrong

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

According to the study’s lead author, the Martian south pole’s reflection dissolved when he added an ice sheet across a radar map of the red planet. Instead of matching up with the rest of the planet, the Martian south pole instead showed the same reflections as known plains of volcanic rock.

“For water to be sustained this close to the surface, you need both a very salty environment and a strong, locally generated heat source,” Cyril Grima, the study’s lead author said (via SciTech Daily).

Based on that criteria, Grim says the Martian south pole doesn’t match up. Pair that with the new knowledge learned from the radar map with the ice sheet, and it looks like it could have all been a mirage. While this discovery may have disproven one of our greatest discoveries about Mars, all hope is not lost. In fact, there is still plenty of water ice on the planet, including in the Martian polar caps. That means we may still find evidence of groundwater on the surface.

Looking for water on Mars

Mars North PoleImage source: Dan Marsh/Adobe

Despite the sad news, there is still a lot that we don’t understand about Mars. But, this also isn’t the only theory about the Martian south pole’s discovery, either.

According to SciTech Daily, a Mars geophysicist with York University named Isaac Smith has proposed another possibility. Smith believes that the bright radar signatures that we witnessed at the Martian south pole could be a type of clay that is made when water erodes rock. He believes we could use those signatures to learn more about Mars’ history with water.

Smith also said that Grima’s finding has some beauty to it. Ultimately, it could point us to other places where water may have been before. Even if the discovery of groundwater at the Martian south pole does prove to be a mirage, we can still hold onto hope. Of course, it’s impossible to know anything for sure. All we can do is theorize until we’ve been able to send explorers to Mars. Unfortunately, that’s still a long way from happening.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.