Where water will be easiest to find on Mars

The more resources we have to transport to our neighboring planet, the more expensive a manned mission to Mars will be. Current concepts therefore rely on the human inhabitants using the resources that Mars makes available to them. On the one hand, there is the carbon dioxide atmosphere, from which methane can be obtained as fuel for the return flight – and on the other, there are water and ice deposits from which oxygen and drinking water can be obtained.

It is already known that Mars is not completely dry. While the atmosphere is available everywhere (although it becomes thinner with increasing altitude), the water is distributed very unevenly. There are thick ice caps at the poles, but it is also very cold there. Ideally, one would land as close as possible to the equator, because it is warmest there (sometimes up to 20 degrees Celsius or 68 degrees Fahrenheit). But that’s also where you’ll find the least amount of ice.

What’s the best compromise? In a paper in Nature Astronomy, researchers now present the first results of the Mars Subsurface Water Ice Mapping (SWIM) project, which aims to search for ice deposits at shallow depths in the mid-latitudes. To do this, scientists used several independent data sources, usually from Mars satellites. This proved to be not so easy because the area covered and the resolution of the data did not match.

But ultimately, the researchers were successful. The composite ice consistency maps show that the vast plains of Arcadia Planitia and the extensive glacial networks above the Deuteronilus Mensae meet most of the criteria for accessible ice-rich subsurface material. Their area of choice, however, is Arcadia Planitia, and in this they agree with NASA and SpaceX. The largely flat landscape also has the advantage that landing there will be easier. Want to check it out yourself because you’re planning your own expedition? No problem: The ice consistency and ice thickness maps are available on the SWIM project website, along with the associated data for each ice detection method.

The study area (left) and the results of the analysis. Blue areas offer good chances of finding ice, in red areas the chances are rather low. (Image: Nature)
Ice deposit uncovered by an impact in the northern latitudes of Mars (Image: Hirise).

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BrandonQMorris
  • BrandonQMorris
  • Brandon Q. Morris es físico y especialista en el espacio. Lleva mucho tiempo preocupado por las cuestiones espaciales, tanto a nivel profesional como privado, y aunque quería ser astronauta, tuvo que quedarse en la Tierra por diversas razones. Le fascina especialmente el "qué pasaría si" y a través de sus libros pretende compartir historias convincentes de ciencia ficción dura que podrían suceder realmente, y que algún día podrían suceder. Morris es autor de varias novelas de ciencia ficción de gran éxito de ventas, como la serie Enceladus.

    Brandon es un orgulloso miembro de la Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America y de la Mars Society.