Italian astronomers have detected a shallow body of liquid water beneath the planet’s South Polar ice capby Philip Ball / July 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
Anyone expecting the moon’s Sea of Tranquility to live up to its name will have been disappointed with the expanse of dry, barren rock revealed when Apollo 11 landed there 49 years ago. The naming of this expanse of lunar territory by the Italian Jesuit astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli in 1651 acknowledged Galileo’s contention that the moon is a world topographically like ours, although Ricciolo thought it was uninhabited.
Likewise the dark streaks of “canali,” or channels, described in 1877 on Mars by another Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli. Although excitedly translated as “canals” and thereby helping to inspire HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, these proved bone dry. Such linguistic slippage attests to our long-standing impulse to imagine water on other worlds.
But the martian lake just discovered from radar soundings—taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around the planet—is no mirage or euphemism. It appears indeed to be a shallow body of liquid water about 20 km wide, close to the martian South Pole.
That there seems to be a reservoir of water (and not just ice) on the planet surely ranks as one of the most astonishing finds on Mars for a long time. It seems only fitting that Italian astronomers, led by Roberto Orosei of the National Institute of Astronomy in Bologna, are once again behind the discovery.