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There is some good news regarding the possible future colonization of Mars: there is a lot of water in Valles Marineris, less than two meters below the surface.

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced that the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, using the Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (or FRIEND instrument) has discovered signicant amounts of water on the Red Planet.

“With (the Trace Gas Orbiter) we can look down to one meter below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on below Mars’ surface — and, crucially, locate water-rich ‘oases’ that couldn’t be detected with previous instruments,” said study author Igor Mitrofanov, principal investigator of the FRIEND neutron telescope, in a statement.

“In the Valles Marineris canyon system: assuming the hydrogen we see is bound into water molecules, as much as 40% of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water.” Valles Marineris is the Martian Grand Canyon, larger than Earth’s Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. That makes for a body of Martian water that’s roughly the size of a small ocean.

This video is a computer-generated flythrough of the grandest canyon in the solar system, Valles Marineris. It was created by the Solar System Visualization team (SSV) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The project was a collaboration with Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, and was designed to show off a mosaic of infrared imagery of the Valles Marineris region gathered by the THEMIS instrument. The visualization uses colorized imagery from Mars Odyssey’s THEMIS instrument combined with a digital elevation model gathered from the MOLA instrument on the Mars Global Surveyor. Thus, two separate Mars orbiters were used to create the most realistic flythrough of the grand canyon of Mars as possible. There is vertical exaggeration used in the video, but it is noted on-screen. The dust devils are also vertically exaggerated.

Actually it’s much, much larger larger. The enormous geological feature in question is 10 times longer, five times deeper and 20 times wider than the Grand Canyon, End to end, it almost fits on a map of continental United States — but not quite — making it the single largest geographical feature on the planet.

Up to this point, most of the water previously found on Mars has been ice in the polar ice caps, but Valles Marineris is far from either pole, being south of the Martian equator.

Martian exploration will continue.  The European Rosalind Franklin rover and Russian surface platform Kazachok are scheduled for launch  in 2022, although they are not expected to land until 2023. While the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity have ceased to function (Spirit powered down for the last time in 2010, and Opportunity lasted eight more years and lost power due to a global Martian sandstorm in 2018), China’s Zhurong Rover and the USA’s Perseverance Rover with its spotter drone helicopter Ingenuity continue to explore the still mysterious Red Planet.

This discovery doesn’t solve all the problems related to long term human habitation of Mars, but of the two big ones, getting enough water and not being continuously with enough hard radiation to scramble our genetic code, finding a huge repository of water this close to the surface is a huge step forward.

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Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.

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