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15-Mar-2007

Contact: Science Press Package
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Radar reveals Martian Pole's icy underside



This map shows the topography of the south polar region of Mars, including topography buried by thick deposits of icy material that have been previously undetected, including depressions as deep as 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) shown in purple in the near-polar region. The terrain elevation is shown by colors, with purple and blue representing the lowest areas, and orange and red the highest. The total range of elevation shown is about 5 kilometers (3 miles). Image Credit: NASA/JPL/ASI/ESA/Univ. of Rome/MOLA Science Team/USGS

A radar instrument took images of Mars' south pole and found very pure water ice and lots of it. There is so much water that if it were spread evenly over the planet it would be about 11 meters thick, or 36 feet deep.

The radar instrument researchers used is called MARSIS for "Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding" and it is aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. NASA and the Italian Space Agency jointly funded the instrument.



This map shows the thickness of the south polar layered deposits of Mars. The radar data indicate that the deposit, larger than Texas in area, is more than 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) thick in places, and that the material consists of nearly pure water ice with only a small component of dust. The thickness of the layered deposits is shown by colors, with purple representing the thinnest areas, and red the thickest. The dark circle in is the area poleward of 87 degrees south latitude, where MARSIS data cannot be collected. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/ASI/ESA/Univ. of Rome/MOLA Science Team/USGS

The international team of researchers used MARSIS to penetrate to the base of the layered deposits on the south pole and provide detailed mapping. They learned that the icy area is larger than the state of Texas, and is more than 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) thick in places.

Scientists also got a view of never-before-seen terrain that has been buried beneath thick, icy deposits. They found depressions as deep as 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) that may be old impact craters. The ice deposits are uneven and lumpy.

This information about Mars' south pole will be added to the research gathered at the north pole and other Mars information for scientists to know more about the story of our neighboring planet.

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