15:24 GMT30 November 2020
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    A team of Italian researchers has discovered a salt lake on Mars using the Marsis radar on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Sputnik spoke with Roberto Orosei, a researcher at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica and the Marsis' scientific director, to find out how important the discovery is for the future of humankind.

    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.

    READ MORE: Scholar on Mars Lake Discovery: 'There Could Be Smaller Lakes Like It'

    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?

    Roberto Orosei: This is important because there have already been several announcements of the discovery of water on Mars in recent times. It was reported that water was flowing down a hillside. However, that was just water from melting permafrost, so it would be refrozen in a few seconds. Our discovery, instead, is about liquid water that is located under the ice and is therefore protected from seasonal temperature variations. It can therefore be considered a habitat, a place where life, as we know it, could survive.

    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.

    READ MORE: NASA Challenge Contestants Design Future Base on Mars

    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.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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