Researchers find ‘significant amounts of water’ in the largest canyon in the solar system

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An orbiter circling Mars has spotted “significant amounts of water” in a formation of canyons often referred to as the Red Planet’s Grand Canyon. 

The ExosMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is operated by the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos, detected unusually high quantities of hydrogen beneath the surface of the Valles Marineris canyon system. 

The orbiter is equipped with its Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND), which is able to detect hydrogen in the top meter of the planet’s soil. 

“With TGO we can look down at one metre 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,” Igor Mitrofanov, principal investigator of the FREND telescope, said in a statement


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“FREND revealed an area with an unusually large amount of hydrogen in the colossal Valles Marineris canyon system: assuming the hydrogen we see is bound into water molecules, as much as 40 percent of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water,” Mitrofanov said. 

The area thought to be water-rich is roughly the size of the Netherlands. 

The water could be chemically bound to other minerals in the soil, but researchers, however, believe the water most likely exists in the form of ice. 

It’s already known that there’s water on Mars, but it’s mostly located in the planet’s polar region as water ice. The Valles Marineris is south of the planet’s equator where water ice usually evaporates due to the warmer temperature and pressure conditions. Researchers said some special mix of conditions must be present in the canyon to preserve water, or it is somehow being replenished.

According to NASA, Valles Marineris is the largest known canyon in the solar system. The canyon system is about 10 times longer and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon.


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