By Alexandra Witze
A large saltwater lake seems to lurk under ice near Mars’s south pole. If confirmed, it would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet and a significant milestone in the quest to determine whether there is life there.
“It’s a very promising place to look for life on Mars,” says Roberto Orosei, a planetary scientist at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, Italy. “But we do not know for sure if it is inhabited.” On Earth, similar ‘subglacial’ lakes are home to microbial life.
A team of Italian researchers, led by Orosei, reported the discovery on 25 July in Science1. They spotted evidence of the buried lake in radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.
Others say that the work is tantalizing but, like anything else in the controversial hunt for water on Mars, it needs more supporting evidence. “It’s not quite a slam dunk yet,” says Jeffrey Plaut, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who has searched for water using data from Mars Express2.
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