A new study examines the possibility of a hidden chamber of magma on Mars that could liquidise the lake concealed beneath the planet’s south polar ice cap.
A team of planetary scientists led by Dr. Roberto Orosei had reported signs of 20-kilometer-wide lake, buried beneath about a kilometer and a half of ice near Mars’ south pole. The reports sparked a discussion regarding the cause behind the lake maintaining a liquid status in the planet’s glacial environment. After considering a series of scenarios that could explain the lake, planetary scientists, Michael Sori and Ali Bramson have concluded that a pool of magma exists under the layer of ice. Michael Sori says, “We tried to do our due diligence and think of all sorts of alternative factors that could raise the temperature. The magma stuff was the only one that did it. None of the other factors really even came close.”
Researchers theorise that if around 300,000 years ago, a volcano released magma into a chamber at least five kilometers wide and buried about 10 kilometers beneath where the lake appears to be, that pool could generate enough heat to still be melting salty ice today. Previous research suggests that Mars’ most recent geologic activity near the south pole occurred millions of years ago.
However, the chamber’s existence raises a question regarding the planet’s habitability; if the lake is only a few hundred thousand years old, that doesn’t give life much time to get started. It is worth noting that radar searches using NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have not spotted any signs of the lake. Planetary scientist Bethany Ehlmann of Caltech who was not part of the study commented that the findings reported in this study are important as they explores an alternative hypothesis.