Sputnik: The news about your discovery has spread throughout the world. It's the first confirmation of the presence of water on Mars. What exactly does the discovery mean?
Roberto Orosei: This is a subglacial lake, similar to those in the Arctic Region or Greenland, such as Lake Vostok, which is the Arctic's largest subglacial lake. The Martian lake is located under a kilometer and a half of ice and it was discovered thanks to a radar similar to those used to study the glaciers on Earth. This type of radar is able to penetrate below the surface and obtain echoes from the material under the ice.
In that case, the water was recognizable because it better reflects the radio waves. When the radar is over a subglacial lake, the echoes coming from the bottom suddenly become very strong and even stronger than the echoes coming from the surface of the ice.
Sputnik: After the many years since the launch of the probe, what did you feel once you discovered the lake?
Roberto Orosei: The discovery took a long time; for years we didn't have high quality data, which we managed to get only in recent years. There was a moment when we realized that we were really seeing what we thought we had seen earlier with less accurate observations. It was big news; we realized that we would be able to show that the echoes we had recorded were due to the presence of water.
Sputnik: Why is this discovery so important for science?
Sputnik: Is your discovery going to mark the start of the search for other traces of life on Mars?
Roberto Orosei: Yes, the radar can't tell us much about the life on the planet. It's essential to understand if this lake is unique or if it's part of a system of subglacial lakes. In this second case the discovery would be even more important. If the subglacial lake is part of a system, then there are different environments where life can survive. Assuming that life has ever been born on Mars, it's much more likely that Martian life is present even today.
Sputnik: How important is cooperation between Italy and Russia in the space sector?
Roberto Orosei: I think it's fundamental. I believe that we can't go forward as individual countries and agencies. If one day there's a chance to go to Mars to analyze that subglacial water, the cost of that is going to be so great that one country funding such an operation would be pointless. We need to develop an international collaboration to succeed in such a project.
Sputnik: Research unites our countries. What do you think?
Roberto Orosei: I think it has always been like that. When I was a student, the Director of my Institute had obtained her doctorate in Russia, so the research had managed to go beyond the ideological and political barriers that existed at the time.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.