Category: agua

Mars Express finds evidence of liquid water un…

A ground-penetrating radar aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite has found evidence for a pool of liquid water, a potentially habitable environment, buried under layers of ice and dust at the red planet’s south pole.

“This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments,” said Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, or MARSIS, lead author of a paper in the journal Science describing the discovery.

The conclusion is based on observations of a relatively small area of Mars, but “it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered,” added Orosei.

Scientists have long theorised the presence of subsurface pools under the martian poles where the melting point of water could be decreased due to the weight of overlying layers of ice. The presence of salts in the Martian soil also would act to reduce the melting point and, perhaps, keep water liquid even at sub-freezing temperatures.

Earlier observations by MARSIS were inconclusive, but researchers developed new techniques to improve resolution and accuracy.

“We’d seen hints of interesting subsurface features for years but we couldn’t reproduce the result from orbit to orbit, because the sampling rates and resolution of our data was previously too low,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS operations manager.

“We had to come up with a new operating mode to bypass some onboard processing and trigger a higher sampling rate and thus improve the resolution of the footprint of our dataset. Now we see things that simply were not possible before.”

MARSIS works by firing penetrating radar beams at the surface of Mars and then measuring the strength of the signals as they are reflected back to the spacecraft.

The data indicating water came from a 200-kilometre-wide (124-mile-wide) area that shows the south polar region features multiple layers of ice and dust down to a depth of about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles). A particularly bright reflection below the layered deposits can be seen in a zone measuring about 20 kilometres (12 miles) across.

Orosei’s team interprets the bright reflection as the interface between overlying ice and a pool or pond of liquid water. The pool must be at least several centimetres thick for the MARSIS instrument to detect it.

“The long duration of Mars Express, and the exhausting effort made by the radar team to overcome many analytical challenges, enabled this much-awaited result, demonstrating that the mission and its payload still have a great science potential,” says Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist.

The discovery is significant because it raises the possibility, at least, of potentially habitable sub-surface environments.

“Some forms of microbial life are known to thrive in Earth’s subglacial environments, but could underground pockets of salty, sediment-rich liquid water on Mars also provide a suitable habitat, either now or in the past?” ESA asked in a statement. “Whether life has ever existed on Mars remains an open question.”

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Hubble delivers first hints of possible water content of…

Hubble delivers first hints of possible water content of TRAPPIST-1 planets

On 22 February 2017 astronomers announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, 40 light-years away. This makes TRAPPIST-1 the planetary system with the largest number of Earth-sized planets discovered so far.

Following up on the discovery, an international team of scientists led by the Swiss astronomer Vincent Bourrier from the Observatoire de l’Université de Genève, used the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the amount of ultraviolet radiation received by the individual planets of the system. “Ultraviolet radiation is an important factor in the atmospheric evolution of planets,” explains Bourrier. “As in our own atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks molecules apart, ultraviolet starlight can break water vapour in the atmospheres of exoplanets into hydrogen and oxygen.”

While lower-energy ultraviolet radiation breaks up water molecules — a process called photodissociation — ultraviolet rays with more energy (XUV radiation) and X-rays heat the upper atmosphere of a planet, which allows the products of photodissociation, hydrogen and oxygen, to escape.

As it is very light, hydrogen gas can escape the exoplanets’ atmospheres and be detected around the exoplanets with Hubble, acting as a possible indicator of atmospheric water vapour. The observed amount of ultraviolet radiation emitted by TRAPPIST-1 indeed suggests that the planets could have lost gigantic amounts of water over the course of their history.

This is especially true for the innermost two planets of the system, TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, which receive the largest amount of ultraviolet energy. “Our results indicate that atmospheric escape may play an important role in the evolution of these planets,” summarises Julien de Wit, from MIT, USA, co-author of the study.

The inner planets could have lost more than 20 Earth-oceans-worth of water during the last eight billion years. However, the outer planets of the system — including the planets e, f and g which are in the habitable zone — should have lost much less water, suggesting that they could have retained some on their surfaces. The calculated water loss rates as well as geophysical water release rates also favour the idea that the outermost, more massive planets retain their water. However, with the currently available data and telescopes no final conclusion can be drawn on the water content of the planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1.

“While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, they also highlight the need for theoretical studies and complementary observations at all wavelengths to determine the nature of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and their potential habitability,” concludes Bourrier.

To see the animation of the seven planets of the trappist-1 system, click here!

Source: spacetelescope.org & Image credit: eso.org

(via reddit)

(via reddit)