Scientists are eager to find signs of contemporary water, because such discoveries are key to unlocking the mystery of whether life ever formed on Mars in its ancient past, and whether it might persist today.
After seeing what possibly could be dark streaks of salty water that flowed down the Martian dune during warm seasons, the planetary scientists were certainly delighted.
A huge lake of salty water appears to be buried deep in Mars, a new study says.
It remains to be seen if more subsurface reservoirs of water will be found or whether the newly discovered one is some sort of quirk, Orosei said.
For this water to remain in a liquid state, the team believes that there are various salts saturating the liquid, keeping it from freezing over.
"Since United Launch Alliance put a price on delivering water in space in 2016, researchers, agencies and companies have focused on water, for support of life and chemical processes, and for conversion to hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel", he said.
Cassie Stuurman, a geophysicist at the University of Texas, said that "if these researchers are right, this is the first time we've found evidence of a large water body on Mars".
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"There are single-celled organisms that survive in such an environment with a metabolism that makes use of the salt", said the professor.
The all-Italian team led by the National Institute of Astrophysics made the discovery using MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), a radar installed on board the European Mars Express probe and developed under the control of the Italian Space Agency.
"That doesn't mean that there will be life there - but it does suggest that a lake on Mars would be a ideal place to look".
Rebecca Mickol, a former UA graduate student, and Tim Kral, a UA biological sciences professor, wrote about the possibility of certain types of microorganisms surviving and growing on Mars in studies published this year by the academic journal Planetary and Space Science. Water is especially reflective of radar, making the tool useful in the search for the life-sustaining liquid.
However, Stillman, who was not involved in the research, said another spacecraft, or other instruments, need to be able to confirm the discovery. They revealed the presence of liquid water.
But dissolved salts of magnesium, calcium, and sodium - known to be present in Martian rocks - are thought to maintain the briny miniature sea by reducing the melting point of water to minus 74C.
"Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form", Orosei said.