The landscape feature may be home to large ice reserves
Having access to large water supplies will be one of the main issues of future manned missions to Mars. But a group of explorers could easily settle the area near Phlegra Montes without having to worry about water. The area, recently revisited by Mars Express, would take care of them.Data collected from orbit indicate that large volumes of water-ice may be hiding beneath the Martian surface, near this mountain. In the future, space explorers could tap these reserves, drawing water for a wide number of uses.
The chemical could be used to create hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be used as rocket propellants, or to create breathable air. And, naturally, astronauts could filter and drink it without worrying about pollution.
The aforementioned reserves were not observed directly, experts managing the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express orbiter admit, but radar probing revealed its presence just beneath the surface.
Phlegra Montes is a relatively large range of mountains and ridge that spans from 30°N to 50°N, between the “northeastern portion of the Elysium volcanic province [and] the northern lowlands,” according to a statement from ESA.
Experts first got it into their heads that ice was present at this location after observing a number of curbed features on the mountain slopes, called lobate debris aprons (LDS), these structures look remarkably similar to rows of debris resting on top of glaciers on Earth.
Seeing how both the Martian and terrestrial varieties move about, it could be that Phlegra Montes' slopes are covered in large amounts of water-ice, which are themselves covered with rocky debris.
Observing the motions of LDA on Mars was made possible by the high-resolution stereo camera on Mars Express, which is capable of capturing images at high levels of resolution. It was with this instrument that ESA scientists could determine that the debris fields were moving.
“This interpretation is backed up by the radar on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looking beneath the Martian surface. The radar shows that lobate debris aprons are indeed strongly associated with the presence of water ice, perhaps only 20 [meters] down,” ESA adds in the press release.