All eyes are on Mars, and even our home institution, the Planetary Science Institute, has gotten into the game. Last week, we announced the release of new maps showing the location of water ice on Mars. A team of scientists, featuring seven from PSI, used data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Global Surveyor to create these maps. The team is a part of the Subsurface Water Ice Mapping on Mars project or SWIM. Which, frankly, is a fantastic acronym.
As lead author Gareth Morgan explains: The goal of SWIM is to provide maps of potential buried ice deposits to support the selection of human landing sites. Ice is a critical resource that has many uses, like the generation of water for human consumption, growing plants for food, and for the generation of methane fuel and breathable air. But the most important is to provide fuel for the return trip home to Earth.
The results were published in Nature Astronomy, and they show that there are broad regions in the mid-latitudes of Mars’ northern hemisphere that have evidence of ice. Now, that ice is subsurface and buried from depths of a few centimeters to about a kilometer, so it will take some work to get to. But it’s there.
The SWIM team (I love saying that) used five different remote sensing techniques to acquire their dataset: neutron spectroscopy, thermal analysis, radar surface analysis, radar subsurface compositional analysis, and geomorphic mapping of the somewhat glacial features. That’s a lot of words, but they all come back to the fact that the work is a broad compilation that narrows down the presence of ice at Mars through the combination of methods.
More work needs to be done before anyone can make decisions about where to send humans on Mars because the resolution of this data is fairly coarse.
PSI press release
“Availability of subsurface water-ice resources in the northern mid-latitudes of Mars,” G. A. Morgan et al., 2021 February 8, Nature Astronomy