Mars held vast amounts of water in ancient past, still has sizable amounts near surface

Mars likely held vast amounts of water in its ancient past, but most of it escaped into space.

However, some of it stayed behind, transforming into ice that settled under the rocky surface.

According to new research, a sizable portion of this water ice is very near the surface, only a few feet below in some places. If this discovery gets confirmed, it augurs well for future missions to the Red Planet.

According to new research published in Science water exists on Mars at depths of around 3 to 6 feet below the surface, and extends across vast sheets measuring 325 feet or more which is much shallower than what has been shown by researchers before.

A team led by USGS scientist Colin Dundas used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which identified eight locations on the Red Planet which have steep, pole-facing cliffs, some as high as 325 feet that reveals slabs of clear ice, exposed by the forces of erosion.

The discovery of frozen water on the planet is not a revelation and it is known that there is water on the planet, especially at the poles. Radio scans by MRO suggest existence of thick, buried ice along the planet's middle latitudes.

''We've found a new window into the ice for study, which we hope will be of interest to those interested in all aspects of ice on Mars and its history,'' The Washington Post reported quoting Colin Dundas, a member of the US Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Arizona and an author of a report published Thursday in the journal Science.

The surface of the planet had been mapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in much detail and Dundas and his colleagues used its pictures to locate exposed ice in small craters, glaciers and ice sheets.

''The high-resolution data has greatly improved our understanding of various ice-related land forms,'' he said.