Water is a critical ingredient for life. And with the discovery of water ice in other planetary objects, scientists are abuzz over the probability of the presence of — and the prospect of supporting — life beyond the boundaries of planet Earth.
Tech Times looks at three of the most recent concrete evidence of water ice on three planetary bodies: Ceres, Pluto and Mars.
Water Ice On Ceres
A study published in the journal Nature Astronomy finds Ceres, the largest asteroid in Earth's solar system, harboring small ice hidden in its shadow-covered craters, similar to that of the moon and Mercury.
Referred to as both an asteroid and dwarf planet with a diameter of about 585 miles (940 kilometers), Ceres is the closest dwarf planet to Earth and is the largest member of the solar system's main asteroid belt, which is located between Mars and Jupiter.
Exposed water ice has been seen at mid-latitudes of Ceres, surface material that is described as a mixture of rock and a substantial amount of ice underneath its surface.
The study revealed that Ceres's slightly angled poles play a crucial part in the presence of water ice, which are located in the permanently shadowed regions where trapped water ice is able to survive.
Using images taken by NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft, scientists were able to identify at least 634 craters located in 2,129 square kilometers safely shielded from the sun’s rays.
Pluto's Subsurface Ocean Of 'Slushy' Liquid Water
A related study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the planet Pluto revealed a "slushy ocean of liquid water beneath Pluto's Tombaugh Region," and its interaction with its moon Charon may have caused a "positive gravitational anomaly."
It is interesting that while Pluto retains only 2 percent of the Earth's heat, it still has enough to create slushy water ice that can explain the push beneath the surface.
Ice Deposits On Mars
An earlier study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in November reported that an ice layer with an estimated surface area bigger than the state of New Mexico was identified in the mid-northern latitudes of the planet Mars.
Researchers believed that this ice layer, covered by just up to 10 meters of soil, contains about as much water as Lake Superior on Earth.
But what makes this development more interesting is that it represents a possible resource for astronauts exploring Mars in the future.
Researchers from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics analyzed the red planet's Utopia Planitia region's "scalloped depressions," using the ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
SHARAD is capable of distinguishing between layers of liquid and frozen water.
Data gathered by SHARAD revealed the deposit, located between 39 and 49 degrees north latitude and whose thickness ranges from 80 to 170 meters, is made up of 50 to 85 percent water ice. According to the researchers, the deposit's water volume is near the 12,090 cubic kilometers of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes.
As of this report however, SHARAD's data indicate that Utopia Planitia’s water is ice.
The University of Texas team believes that further study of the Utopia Planitia ice deposit could help shed light on how the Martian climate has changed over the years.
"The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren't just an exploration resource; they're also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars," said Joe Levy of the University of Texas.