Equatorial Relict Glacier Uncovered on Mars

Relict Glacier

A Relict Glacier near Mars’ Equator. (NASA MRO HiRISE and CRISM false color composite). Credit: Pascal Lee

The preservation of water ice at shallow depths and low latitudes on Mars would have significant implications for both scientific research and human exploration.

During the 54th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference that took place in The Woodlands, Texas, scientists announced a groundbreaking discovery of a relict glacier located near the equator of

“What we’ve found is not ice, but a salt deposit with the detailed morphologic features of a glacier. What we think happened here is that salt formed on top of a glacier while preserving the shape of the ice below, down to details like crevasse fields and moraine bands,” said Dr. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, and the lead author of the study.

The presence of volcanic materials blanketing the region hints of how the sulfate salts might have formed and preserved a glacier’s imprint underneath. When freshly erupted pyroclastic materials (mixtures of volcanic ash, pumice, and hot lava blocks) come in contact with water ice, sulfate salts like the ones commonly making up Mars’ light-toned deposits may form and build up into a hardened, crusty salt layer.

Relict Glacier With Text

Interpretation of the “Relict Glacier’s” features. Credit: Pascal Lee

“This region of Mars has a history of volcanic activity. And where some of the volcanic materials came in contact with glacier ice, chemical reactions would have taken place at the boundary between the two to form a hardened layer of sulfate salts,” explains Sourabh Shubham, a graduate student at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geology, and a co-author of the study. “This is the most likely explanation for the hydrated and hydroxylated sulfates we…

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