Liquid water lake on Mars may need an underground volcano to keep it from freezing

If Mars experiences volcanoes, it could be a very favourable environment for water & life than thought.

Scientists think that a lake of liquid water discovered under Mars' southern ice cap wouldn't have existed if the planet didn't have an underground volcano to keep the pool of water from freezing.

The lake was discovered in June last year when a ground-penetrating radar instrument picked up on the 20-kilometre-wide lake a kilometre and a half below the surface of Mars.

The scientists that made the discovery proposed that the many different salts and their high concentrations kept the water from freezing over. The temperature of the lake was as low as -68 degrees Celsius at the time it was discovered.

That said, new research suggests a whole different reason for why the water remains liquid: volcanic activity — specifically, magma — in the planet's recent past.

Liquid water lake on Mars may need an underground volcano to keep it from freezing

The South Pole of Mars is hiding a subsurface lake. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL

If a magma chamber was formed under the surface, it would produce enough heat to keep the water liquid under the kilometre and a half of ice.

"Different people may go different ways with this...and we're really interested to see how the community reacts to it," Dr Michael Sori, co-lead author on the paper from the University of Arizona, told Sky News.

The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters earlier this month.

The theory about a Martian underground volcano will be put to the test using NASA's InSight lander. InSight, which landed on the planet in November last year, is equipped with a seismometer to listen for tremors.

An artistic rendition of InSight taking Mars' vital signs. Image: NASA JPL

An artistic rendition of InSight taking Mars' vital signs. Image: NASA JPL

The instrument is perfectly designed to prove if and how much volcanic activity and cracks form in Mars' crust.

If InSight's findings do end up proving that Mars is volcanic, it could change a lot about how the planet is perceived. Volcanism would make Mars a geologically-active planet, like Earth.

"If there are still magmatic processes active today, maybe they were more common in the recent past," Dr Ali Bramson, co-lead author from the University of Arizona told Sky News.

"This could provide a more favourable environment for liquid water and thus, perhaps, life."

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