Ice Caves on Mars: Past Climate, Biosignature Preservation?

Credit score: NASA


Exploration of caves on planet Mars might doubtlessly assist shed gentle again on the historical past of previous local weather circumstances on the Pink Planet, in addition to provide proof for previous microbial life.

Martian caves are shielded from radiation and environmental extremes making them wonderful preservers of potential biosignatures.

New analysis has regarded into the promise of “ice caves” on Mars, rock-hosted caves containing ice. Ice-hosted caves are referred to as “glacier caves”, and could also be current on Mars as nicely.

Illustration of what an ice cave might appear to be on Mars. Hoarfrost grows on the ceiling and partitions of a lava tube, with crystals rising in varied instructions. The cave is crumbling as a consequence of its outdated age. Some hoar crystals fell on the ground as a consequence of their very own weight.
Credit score: Norbert Schörghofer

The report – “Ice caves on Mars: Hoarfrost and microclimates” – is authored by Norbert Schörghofer of the Planetary Science Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii and Tucson, Arizona and seems within the journal Icarus.

Technologically possible

“The exploration of caves on Mars is technologically possible within the near-term,” Schörghofer explains.

“Drones that may function within the tenuous Martian environment are in energetic improvement. Autonomous drones that navigate in confined areas are additionally being actively developed, as are all-terrain robotic automobiles and hoppers,” Schörghofer factors out in his Icarus paper. “Miniaturized devices that may be carried by small automobiles create science alternatives for the exploration of extraterrestrial caves. Additional sooner or later, caves might function radiation-shielded habitats, and ice within the caves of the equatorial area could be a worthwhile useful resource.”

Planet Mars is believed to harbor many volcanic caves, observes Schörghofer. Skylight entrances and pit crater chains have been noticed with cameras on a number of spacecraft circling Mars.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE picture taken of an space on the decrease southeastern flank of the volcano Elysium Mons. Within the middle is a small, darkish pristine-appearing pit roughly 426 ft (130 meters) in diameter.
Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Position of microclimates

Schörghofer factors to a paucity of analysis on the subject, noting earlier work by one other researcher that predicted, primarily based on microclimate mannequin calculations, that Martian lava tubes within the Tharsis and Elysium rises might have retained ice to the current day.

The brand new work assesses the position of microclimates and the bodily construction of spelean (pertaining to a characteristic in a cave) ice formations anticipated in Martian caves. A few of the primary questions are: The place on Mars can caves be anticipated to comprise ice? What do spelean ice formations appear to be on Mars?

Location of candidate caves within the Tharsis area on Mars.
Credit score: USGS

“Martian caves are located in environments the place part transitions of water are solely by sublimation. The predominant sort of cave ice is anticipated to be perennial hoarfrost that slowly grows in supersaturated cavities,” Schörghofer explains.

Caves on Mars are located in a chilly and dry atmosphere (dry when it comes to absolute humidity, not when it comes to relative humidity), Schörghofer writes, “the place part transitions of water are presently solely by sublimation. Cave ice formations are anticipated within the type of perennial hoarfrost sourced from the humid environment. The place underground conduits and cavities are saturated with water vapor, hoarfrost crystals slowly develop over time.”

Work forward

Schörghofer concludes that many elements of ice caves on Mars stay to be explored, corresponding to the expansion of sublimation crystals round 200 Ok, fluid dynamics simulations of cave climates on Mars, consideration of relic cave ice, and analog research of perennial hoarfrost in caves right here on Earth.

“Lastly, cave climates might be anticipated to play a bigger position on our bodies with a denser environment, particularly Venus and Titan,” Schörghofer concludes.

To achieve entry to the paper — “Ice caves on Mars: Hoarfrost and microclimates” – go to:


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