Water ice on Mars could also be found at latitudes lower than the poles: traces of a recent glacier have in fact been discovered in an area close to the equator and there is the possibility that some parts of it have remained intact until today .
The discovery, announced at the Conference of Lunar and Planetary Sciences in Texas and led by the Mars Institute and Seti (the scientific organization dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life), would have a significant impact on human exploration, as it would allow future missions to move from the polar areas, which present more demanding environmental conditions for both humans and robots.
The glacier, approximately 6 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide, is located in the area called Noctis Labyrinthus, known for its labyrinthine system of deep and steep valleys.
The researchers led by Pascal Lee have not found ice, but a deposit of salt that has all the morphological characteristics typical of a glacier.
“What we think happened here,” Lee explains, “is that the salt settled on top of the glacier, preserving its shape.”
The presence of salt above the glacier is explained by the volcanic activity that characterized this area of the Red Planet in recent times: "When volcanic materials came into contact with the ice," says Sourabh Shubham of the American University of Maryland and co -author of the study, "the chemical reactions would have formed a hard layer of salts".
It remains to be ascertained if the ice is still present under the layer of salt, or if it has completely disappeared: "Water ice is not found in a stable form in areas of Mars close to the equator, so it is possible that it is entirely sublimated (passed directly from solid to gaseous state)," adds Lee.
"But there's also the possibility that some of it could still be present at shallow depths, protected by the salt."