Tip Sheets

Red planet and ‘ocean world’? Lake on Mars boosts potential for life

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

Researchers using radar scans have discovered evidence of a salty, liquid reservoir below Mars’ south pole — a discovery with implications in the hunt for extraterrestrial life, according to a Cornell University astrophysicist.

Jonathan Lunine

Professor of the Physical Sciences

Jonathan Lunine is the director of the Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University and has served on a number of advisory and strategic planning committees for NASA. He says a lake under the Martian pole makes the dusty planet an “ocean world.”

Lunine says:

“This is a great discovery by the MARSIS radar developed in Italy. The possibility of a liquid water lake under the polar cap of Mars makes the red planet another ‘ocean world’, in which liquid water exists below a layer of ice. Other ocean worlds include Europa, Titan, and Enceladus, among others.

“While ancient Mars may have had surface seas or an ocean, the possibility of an ocean under the ice cap—combined with the discovery of organic molecules at Gail crater by Curiosity—raises the possibility of microbial life existing on Mars at the present time.” 

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