Do you remember the children’s story “The Little Engine That Could”? Well, I’ve come up with a new nickname for Mars: the little planet that could. There are plenty of good reasons to believe that Mars is a dead world, totally devoid of life; and yet, stubbornly and persistently, Mars just keeps trying and trying to prove otherwise.
Last year, it was announced that scientists had discovered an underground lake near the Martian south pole, in a region known as Planum Australe. According to this paper published in the journal Science, radar profiles of Mars’s south polar region revealed “a well-defined, 20-km-wide subsurface anomaly.”
The authors do say this in the abstract of their paper: “We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars.” So I get why the popular press was calling this an underground lake. However, based on what it says in the rest of the paper, it sounds more like we’re talking about mud: polar melt water plus Martian regolith. But I could be misreading this. And there are apparently a lot of uncertainties about this anomaly anyway due to the technical limitations with our space probe at Mars. So who knows?
But there can be no doubt about this: we found something. Something anomalous. A distinctly watery kind of anomaly, based on comparisons with similar radar observations of Greenland and Antarctica. And again, because of the technical limitations of our space probe, there may be more watery anomalies all around the Martian poles. Maybe the Planum Australe anomaly is just “the big one,” and there are many other patches of mud that are too small for our instruments to detect.
So could Mars support life? Mars is still a very cold, bleak, hostile place. But yes, more and more it’s looking like Mars could… it could… it could….