A giant deposit of water-ice buried within Mars' surface is evidence of a hidden polar ice cap, scientists say in a new study.
The research comes from radar information gleaned from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and show ice sheets buried in sand that stretch about a mile deep into the planet.
Findings, they say, show conclusive evidence that those ice caps, not unlike Earth's, wax and wane as a result of the tilt and orbit of the planet.
The amount of ice layered into deposits of sand are so great, scientists say, that if it were melted down, the liquid would form a planet-wide layer of water about 5 feet deep.
'We didn’t expect to find this much water ice here,' said Stefano Nerozzi, a graduate research assistant at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and lead author of the new study.
'That likely makes it the third largest water reservoir on Mars after the polar ice caps.'
Scientists have hypothesized that the layers of ice formed on Mars during past ice ages and were protected from periods of warming by sand that covered their surface and protected from solar radiation.
While scientists have long surmised Mars' past glacial activity, which were influenced by the planet's tilting and wobbling toward or away from the sun over periods of about 50,000 years, ice caps were thought to have disappeared from Mars entirely.
Instead, much of that ice was locked inside the planet's surface, say researchers.
'Surprisingly, the total volume of water locked up in these buried polar deposits is roughly the same as all the water ice known to exist in glaciers and buried ice layers at lower latitudes on Mars, and they are approximately the same age,' Nerozzi said.
Research has implications on not only how Mars looks today, but also how the red planet's climate may have, in the past, been conducive to life as we know it on Earth.
'Understanding how much water was available globally versus what’s trapped in the poles is important if you’re going to have liquid water on Mars,' Nerozzi said.
'You can have all the right conditions for life, but if most of the water is locked up at the poles, then it becomes difficult to have sufficient amounts of liquid water near the equator.'
As the prospects of human space colonization become more and more serious, the habitability of Mars by humans is becoming an area of greater interest by bother private and public parties.
NASA recently awarded one company a $500,000 grand prize for designing the concept for a human-ready habitat that could be produced and replicated on Mars using 3D printing.
Private aerospace company SpaceX, owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, is also aggressively pursuing the first manned space mission to mars.
The company's Starhopper, which aims to take humans to both the moon and Mars, is readying to take its first flight which could come as soon as May 28th according to a report by The Verge.