back to article Hurrah! Boffins finally discover liquid water sloshing around on Mars

Scientists have discovered a lake of liquid water on Mars hidden beneath multiple layers of dust and ice, according to a paper published in Science on Wednesday. It has long been suspected that the Red Planet is not as dry and arid as it looks. Over the years, spacecrafts and rovers have uncovered evidence of its watery past. …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

    "... believe the highly reflective body is actually a pool of liquid water saturated with salty sediments"

    There's a patch 1.5km under the surface that has reflective properties similar to a body of salty water. Yet, the conclusion is affirmative : there is liquid water on Mars.

    I know we all want there to be, but shouldn't a scientist call it a "positive indication", or a "reassuring probability", instead of a definite ? Is there really no other possibility ?

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

      Its easy to be definite because by the time we actually dig 1.5 km under the Martian pole the guys who said "its definite" will quite likely be dead.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

        Elon had better make sure he takes a shovel in 2025 when SpaceX is supposed to be going to Mars.

        In the article I had to read 'decreases the melting point, a couple of times as I am more used to seeing ' pressure lowers the freezing point of water' , seemed a weird way of phrasing that.

        1. frank ly Silver badge

          Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

          Not fast at all. Here is an extract from a story in The Independent newspaper, as also was noted in this article:

          https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/mars-water-reservoir-life-planet-lake-pools-esa-european-space-agency-a8463281.html

          "Scientists led by Roberto Orosei examined that data between May 2012 and December 2015 and found that there was a very sharp change in the radar signals, when looking at the area, which was found 1.5km beneath the surface.

          The researchers spent two years ensuring that the data wasn’t the result of some other effect – eventually ruling out every possible explanation apart from liquid water of some kind."

          I assume that after they'd finished their examination of the data, it was given to other teams of scientists who tried to tear the conclusions apart. Only now do we get some kind of concensus opinion.

          Compare this approach to that of politicians who will have some kind of idea or dream and then wake up and tell you that it's true and that anyone who disagrees with them is a fool or worse.

          1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

            Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

            @Frank Ly

            "Compare this approach to that of politicians who will have some kind of idea or dream and then wake up and tell you that it's true and that anyone who disagrees with them is a fool or worse."

            Scientists deal with facts. Politicians deal with people, especially those who vote. People are slippery and evasive about getting others to pay for their needs; and politicians truly represent the people.

            Politics is not as easy as it looks, and we are entitled to blame the voters (other people, of course).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

              Politics is not as easy as it looks, and we are entitled to blame the voters (other people, of course).

              Thats why i always vote for the other guy or girl.....

        2. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

          Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

          Elon had better make sure he takes a shovel in 2025 when SpaceX is supposed to be going to Mars.

          I hear he has a small submarine going spare at the moment...

          1. Symon Silver badge
            Gimp

            Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

            I heard he's keeping it where the sun don't shine?

          2. Jay Lenovo Silver badge
            Alien

            Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

            Elon had better make sure he takes a shovel in 2025 when SpaceX is supposed to be going to Mars.

            ...Who knows how long the Martian soccer team has been trapped down there.

          3. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

            ..."I hear he has a small submarine going spare at the moment."

            Not exactly. The submarine is unfit for purpose and thus surplus to requirements. Musk is the one who seems to be going spare.

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

          "Elon had better make sure he takes a shovel in 2025 when SpaceX is supposed to be going to Mars."

          he left one in the trunk of his car...

    2. jmch Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

      "shouldn't a scientist call it a "positive indication", or a "reassuring probability", instead of a definite"

      That's what the scientists DID say. It's El Reg's headline that makes it an absolute affirmative. (But we like The Register that way, right?)

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

        "But we like The Register that way, right?"

        Actually, no. I mostly enjoy the well-placed snark as much as the next guy, but prefer the actual information to stay as factually correct as possible. Admittedly this specific one is a very subjective example, but I for one was left with the impression of having read "ok guys, this time we found water for realsies, the matter is conclusively settled, full stop" when what the researchers wrote was merely "we found something consistent with the presence of liquid water and we have no idea what else could cause it". That's very, very far from "we found something that we know can be exclusively and only caused by presence of liquid water". And I don't appreciate needing to read the whole original source material just to untangle what the factual information I'm reading about is supposed to actually be.

        1. Scroticus Canis Silver badge

          Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me - also for the reaserchers

          From the article : ' “This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments,” said Roberto Orosei'.

          So could be just damp rock (water rich sediments). If it is actually liquid it would be a brine slushie at best.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me - also for the reaserchers

            If it is actually liquid it would be a brine slushie at best.

            Hey, I'll take it. It's good news for investors in my Martian Pickles Kickstarter.

      2. tony72

        Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

        To be fair, the paper actually is quite definite, the abstract says;

        Quantitative analysis of the radar signals shows that this bright feature has high relative dielectric permittivity (>15), matching that of water-bearing materials. We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars..

        However it's not as if they jumped to that conclusion, they didn't just see a bright patch on an image and say "yep, that's water". Reading the paper to understand how they reached their conclusions is definitely warranted before criticising those conclusions. I have only skimmed it, but is seems pretty sound to me.

      3. Rogerborg 2.0
        FAIL

        Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

        I took the liberty of reading the article, and present for your edification this direct quote therein:

        "it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere" said Orosei and Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist.

    3. Paul Cooper

      Re: That conclusion seems a bit fast to me

      Well, there is plenty of Earth-based experience to back it up. Back in the 1980s, UK researchers (mainly at Scott Polar Research Institute) found similar evidence of lakes beneath the Antarctic Ice Cap. Lake Vostok was the big one, but many more lake candidates were identified. Of course, at the time the possibility of actually verifying that they were lake using drilling techniques was science-fiction! But there are plenty of ways of checking that the bright reflections are from a water layer:

      1) Is the top surface smooth compared with surrounding areas?

      2) Is the dielectric constant estimated from the strength of the echo compatible with water?

      3) Is the combination of pressure (derived from the thickness of the ice column) and temperature (derived from knowledge of surface temperature plus estimates of geothermal heat flux) within the liquid part of water's phase diagram?

      4) Is there a surface expression of the lake (not found until 1996 by SAR imaging)

      Since then at least one of these lakes has been drilled and they are water bodies.

      Finally, there's the question of what else could it be? It looks like water, it behaves like water and it's beneath a 2km column of (mostly) water!

      I used to do this stuff for a living!

  2. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I guess it's possible... what the probability actually is though. The other story about the dust coming from one giant structure and being rather deep across the planet might have buried any water. Who knows... we need a long drill on the next explorer.

    1. PhilBuk

      A long drill and Bruce Willis et al.

      Phil.

  3. steelpillow Silver badge
    Boffin

    Not so much a lake

    "matching water or water-rich sediments", said the man in charge.

    OK, so - if it were salt water like say the Dead Sea then the sand and stuff would sink down through it to the bottom, either lifting the water layer higher until it reached the surface, or simply becoming a layer of "water-rich sediments" in its own right. Underground lakes can exist under solid rock, as in Derbyshire's Speedwell Caverns, or under ice as in Antarctica, but not under soft sandy sediments.

    Yes, the radar returns are compatible with a lake, but the rest of the geophysics certainly is not. It's like water-bearing sand/rock strata anywhere, and we don't call those "lakes".

    1. Symon Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Not so much a lake

      It's under the ice.

      "The surface is mostly ice and dust for about 1.5 kilometers, but as the radar went deeper the scientists detected a layer that had a particularly bright reflection."

      The author's clumsy use of 'surface' doesn't help. Maybe 'ground' or 'crust' is better.

  4. spold Bronze badge

    The Martians have got themselves a pool! I'm surprised ground penetrating radar hasn't detected deck chairs yet...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "The Martians have got themselves a pool! I'm surprised ground penetrating radar hasn't detected deck chairs yet..."

      They are packed in the German portion of the ESA lander.

  5. Kaltern

    Money

    If anyone is coming here for serious up-to-the-minute science news updates...

    (wait, we are?)

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Money

      "If anyone is coming here for serious up-to-the-minute science news updates..."

      ElReg still hasn't caught up with the GREEEEAAAASE IN SPAAAACE story I sent them a month ago.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Should they now update the project's name?

    Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding and Water Exploration Technology (MARSISWET)

    1. ForthIsNotDead
      Pint

      Re: Should they now update the project's name?

      Have a beer! ------>

  7. naylorjs
    Joke

    I saw a documentary about this once....

    It was on the BBC and in the documentary it was shown that the water on Mars was really bad for you. It transformed people in horrible ways.

    The host of the documentary was a man in a blue telephone box.

  8. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Trollface

    big whoop - two thirds of this planet is water with salty sediments. on the actual surface.

  9. WibbleMe

    Is it hard or soft water, we want know if we can make beer and pizza

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      And, most important, a nice cuppa.

  10. Giles C

    I saw this first on the bbc news site, the comments there where astonishing, religion was key, spending money on science was a waste (wonder how they got computers to right on) brexit was a key topic.

    Glad to come back to the register for some sensible (mostly) debate.

    On topic, proper science at work, let’s have more of this. Finding liquid water in two locations means the prospect of more to come, and if there are microbes it will be more intelligent than the bbc commenters

  11. Flakk Silver badge
    Joke

    Planet is a barren wasteland... check.

    Underground cache of water discovered... check.

    Do we have wormsign yet?

  12. Kev99 Bronze badge

    Don't you mean added salts lower the FREEZING point instead of MELTING point? The lower the freezing point, the lower temp at which it remains a liquid. In other words, if you lower the melting point, ice would melt -5C instead of 0C. OR do you Brits just have weird ways to say things?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      its just a weird way of saying it . means the same thing . I'd have gone for freezing point.

    2. Santa from Exeter

      Nope

      The melting point is not the same as the freezing point at all.

      For instance, here on Earth, the melting point of water ice is 0 degrees C, but water can exist in a 'super cooled' state well below this.

      This is the origin of true 'Black Ice', which is rain cooled below zero freezing when it hits the road and creating a layer of ice with no trapped air.

      Wikipedia is actually pretty good on this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercooling

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Nope

        It's even more complicated than that. When a liquid freezes, it usually precipitates out some or all of the solutes, which is why if you freeze sea water you get relatively fresh water ice cubes. If you have a liquid with a solute content, its freezing point is depressed, i.e. the temperature at which ice forms. However, once formed, the ice won't melt until it reaches the temperature at which the pure liquid melts. So for water ice which behaves like this, freezing point depression is correct and melting point is not.

        The phase diagrams for metal alloys are even more complicated, such as the aluminium alloys in which copper can precipitate out after the metal has solidified.

        tl;dr just reproduce what the scientists actually said and then if someone says you're wrong, refer them to the original paper. (The CMA defence.)

  13. Stig2k

    Spacecrafts

    So . . . . are we just going to all pretend that we didn't just read the word 'spacecrafts' then?!

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Spacecrafts

      Nope - I wanted to read the other comments to see if anyone else had spotted it before commenting, though!

      Another one that always seems odd to me is "radars" - I always thought the plural of radar was "radar"...

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