The reservoir they detected - roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface - represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars.
Twenty-nine "radar profiles" of this area were taken using radio pulses, creating a picture of the layers underneath the ice caps, at least mile beneath the surface of Mars.
Orosei said the lake's water was below freezing point but remained liquid thanks to a sizeable amount of salt. It was already there or thereabouts - Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus have both been shown to have large bodies of water, and another Saturnian moon, Titan, is known to have standing bodies of liquid methane, but Mars was always a likely candidate, because of the evidence that large bodies existed in the past.
Almost 4.5 billion years ago, Mars had six and a half times as much water as it does now and a thicker atmosphere.
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"After years, literally a couple of years of.discussion, debate, and let's say general head scratching, we really felt confident that any other explanation would fail", Orosei says. Life has been found in the poisonous, arsenic-rich waters of Lake Mono, California.
The body of water is about 20 kilometres across and, if confirmed, would be the first evidence of permanent water on the Red Planet. But there's little heat flowing from the geologically dead interior of Mars, and under the planet's weak gravity, the weight of 1.5 kilometers of ice does not lower the melting point by much. It will also interest those studying the possibilities for life beyond Earth - though it does not yet raise the stakes in the search for biology. Although this is just one detection, the team wrote, "there is no reason to conclude that the presence of subsurface water on Mars is limited to a single location".
"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".
To know for certain if this lake actually exists is not going to be easy, Orosei says. Conveniently, there's another radar instrument called SHARAD orbiting the Red Planet on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
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The discovery is especially intriguing because underground lakes like this are also found near Earth's poles, particularly in Greenland and Antarctica.
But it's a clue to how the terrain of Mars developed and to the planet's long term climate.
Some experts are skeptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, and mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals. On Earth those lakes are often connected by channels, forming branching riverlike networks of water that extend across vast spaces beneath the ice. "Drilling 1.5km beneath the surface of another planet is hard", says Coates.
"In light blue you can see where the reflections from the bottom are stronger than surface reflection".
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