Surprise, Surprise: Subsurface Water On Mars Defies Expectations

InSight Lander on Mars

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough check-up since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Physics connects seismic data to properties of rocks and sediments.

A new analysis of seismic data from NASA’s Mars InSight mission has uncovered a couple of big surprises.

The first surprise: the top 300 meters (1000 feet) of the subsurface beneath the landing site near the Martian equator contains little or no ice.

“We find that Mars’ crust is weak and porous. The sediments are not well-cemented. And there’s no ice or not much ice filling the pore spaces,” said geophysicist Vashan Wright of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Wright and three co-authors published their analysis on August 9, 2022, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“These findings don’t preclude that there could be grains of ice or small balls of ice that are not cementing other minerals together,” said Wright. “The question is how likely is ice to be present in that form?”

The second surprise contradicts a leading theory about what happened to the water on Mars. It is believed the red planet may have harbored oceans of water early in its history. Many experts suspected that much of that water became part of the minerals that make up underground cement.

“If you put water in contact with rocks, you produce a brand-new set of minerals, like clay, so the water’s not a liquid. It’s part of the mineral structure,” said study co-author Michael Manga of the University of California Berkeley. “There is some cement, but the rocks are not full of cement.”

NASA InSight Mars Lander Sol 1199

NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image of the area in front of the lander using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC) on April 11, 2022, Sol 1199 of the InSight mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Water may also go into minerals that do not act as cement. However, the uncemented subsurface removes one way to preserve a record of life or biological activity, Wright said. Cements by their very nature hold rocks and sediments together, protecting them from destructive erosion.

The lack of cemented sediments suggests a water scarcity in the 300 meters (1000 feet) below InSight’s landing site near the equator. The below-freezing average temperature at the Mars equator means that conditions would be cold enough to freeze water if it were there.

Many planetary scientists, including Manga, have long suspected that the Martian subsurface would be full of ice. Their suspicions have melted away. Still, big ice sheets and frozen ground ice remain at the Martian poles.

“As scientists, we’re now confronted with the best data, the best observations. And our models predicted that there should still be frozen ground at that latitude with aquifers underneath,” said Manga, professor and chair of Earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley.

In 2018, the InSight spacecraft landed on Elysium Planitia, a flat, smooth, plain near the Martian equator. Its instruments included a seismometer that measures vibrations caused by marsquakes and crashing meteorites.

Researchers can tie this information to a huge mass of knowledge about the surface, including images of Martian landforms and temperature data. The surface data indicated that the subsurface might consist of sedimentary rock and lava flows. However, the team still had to account for uncertainties about subsurface properties such as porosity and mineral content.

Seismic waves from marsquakes furnish clues to the nature of the materials they travel through. Possible cementing minerals—such as calcite, kaolinite, clay, and gypsum—affect seismic velocities. Wright’s team at Scripps Oceanography applied rock physics computer modeling to interpret the velocities derived from the InSight data.

“We ran our models 10,000 times each to get the uncertainties incorporated into our answers,” said co-author Richard Kilburn, a graduate student working in the Scripps Tectonorockphysics Lab led by Wright. Simulations showing a subsurface consisting mostly of uncemented material best fit the data.

Scientists want to probe the subsurface because if life exists on Mars, that is where it would be. There is no liquid water on the surface, and subsurface life would be protected from radiation. Following a sample-return mission, a NASA priority for the next decade is the Mars Life Explorer mission concept. The goal is to drill two meters (6 feet) into the Martian crust at high latitude to search for life where ice, rock, and the atmosphere come together.

Already under consideration is the proposed international robotic Mars Ice Mapper Mission to help NASA identify potential science goals for the first human missions to Mars. Scripps Oceanography helps prepare young scientists to contribute to such missions.

“All my life growing up, I’ve heard the Earth may become uninhabitable,” said study co-author Jhardel Dasent, another graduate student in the lab Wright leads. “I’m at the age now where I can contribute to producing the knowledge of another planet that may get us there.”

Reference: “A minimally cemented shallow crust beneath InSight” by Vashan Wright, Jhardel Dasent, Richard Kilburn and Michael Manga, 9 August 2022, Geophysical Research Letters.
DOI: 10.1029/2022GL099250

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the CIFAR Earth 4D program.

64 Comments on "Surprise, Surprise: Subsurface Water On Mars Defies Expectations"

  1. Nasa has known about this for 40 years. They also know there is life on Mars as proven by 200 peer reviewed studies. NASA stands for “Not A Straight Answer.” Why are they hiding the biggest discovery in human history?

    • It’s interesting that the link I’ve posted for the peer review studies keeps disappearing. Here it is again from the Journal of Astrobiology.
      http://journalofastrobiology.com/LifeonMarsPressRelease.html
      Lets see how long it stays up.

      • Kelsey Williams | August 19, 2022 at 10:22 am | Reply

        Is this the study you claim proves that there is life on mars? Did you read the paper? I read it beginning to end. This paper does not intend to prove that life on mars exists, but rather concludes that terrestrial life can survive the journey to mars and may accidentally be mistaken by our probes for martian life. The paper further states that this terrestial contamination is something we need to be careful of as it can lead to false positives. This paper says nothing controversial. I found it thought provoking. What I don’t find in this paper is all the nonsense you are commenting. I believe that before we ask if there is intelligent life amongst the stars, we must first ask if there is intelligent life on earth.

    • Are you implying that this link takes one to a peer reviewed journal. I do fervently wish that we will find traces of life on Mars, but I am not crazy enough to create a complete fake “journal” to post fantasies in. The content in there is just laughable, and in no way peer reviewed.

      • It’s convenient and lazy to label something fake. This article points to all the peer reviewed studies of life on Mars. Did you do any research yourself or did you hug your bias and move on? The U.S. Navy has officially stated that UFO’s are real. Perhaps you believe it’s a fake Navy?

  2. Russell Davenport | August 12, 2022 at 8:09 pm | Reply

    Why are we not going back to the moon for space ports. Instead of using excess fuel cost to break earths atmosphere. Maybe Elon will have more sense.

    • Russell, that is absolutely a plan and has been for a while. It’s what the Artemis program is all about. The idea is: moon base, spaceport, gateway, a jumping-off point to Mars, etc. It’s also likely to involve non-government companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Check it out: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/

  3. What do you mean Nasa has known about life on Mars for 40 years? Where did they come by that information? Why hide it, and why spend so much time and money on probe missions if they already have proof?

  4. Sorry but we are wrong again. No surprise. Mars cannot, and never had previously supported life. It’s not going to either.

    • That’s not the conclusion from this finding. Your god is running out of gaps to hide in, and you are getting desperate. Poor god.

  5. Care to link those super secret public publicly peer reviewed studies? 🙂

  6. If the Mars rover found the equivalent of an embryo on Mars what would Nasa report? Do you say we have found life on another planet? How would other

  7. If the Mars rover found the equivalent of an embryo on Mars what would Nasa report? Do you say we have found life on another planet? How would other

  8. Can we just forget Mars and focus on fixing how we treat our own planet… if we can’t sustain human life on earth then good luck trying to make it work on a giant red dust ball… waste of time and resources

    • “Can we just forget Mars and focus on fixing how we treat our own planet…”

      Who is we? You are welcome to start fixing away on the planet. Other people are building space ships to take us to Mars, which they are entitled to do if they please.

      In fact one of those people started an electric car revolution and has actually done a pretty significant thing for cutting down on burning fossil fuels, by forcing the major car manufacturers to get serious about electric.

      Surely you’re not wanting to dictate how others spend their own time and money are you?

      Anyway nobody is stopping you from fixing the planet. Just roll up your sleeves and get to it. Nobody is obligated to make that their mission in life. Some will decide to do it, some won’t, and others will talk about it and do nothing

  9. It is always amusing to hear these science folks say, lets leave earth, lush, green earth for a dead planet.

  10. SomethingIsFishy | August 13, 2022 at 8:52 am | Reply

    They were all in Trumps Mar a lago house.

  11. Lol so many idiots in these comments

  12. Life on Mars? Bill Clinton announced that meteorites found on Earth that were determined to be from Mars had structures inside that proved there was life on Mars. A month later scientists admitted that the structures were caused by high reentry heat. A cover up? No way. He wanted to take the credit.

  13. Newsgroup media | August 13, 2022 at 10:24 am | Reply

    Negronis will always be negronis, and that what all you guys are.

  14. Art Buehrer, Jr. | August 13, 2022 at 10:25 am | Reply

    There is absolutely no proof of life was aver on Mars, or is there none now. Maybe someday.

  15. If there is water subsurface, then most likely there is at least some type of bacterial life there. We found on earth bacteria in nuclear reactors. Anything is possible

  16. We ARE going back to the moon to, among other things, have a space port to launch from. These things are just moving very slowly and methodically. SpaceX won the contract from NASA to do so, so they’ll be one of the first to work on this endeavor.

  17. Typical posted comments that NASA is hiding something from us all is just another example of how eaten alive by conspiracies people are today. Yes, wtf would NASA withold information regarding water on Mars for 40 years as posted by reader? Answer: they haven’t. It still speculation, yes, speculation based on science not conspiracy. Get a life.

    • I guess it must have been the tetraethyl lead in the exhaust in their childhood. It’s a real tragedy that we now have a whole generation of mentally damaged people voting.

  18. They’re probably on 4Chan lol

  19. It’s fascinating to think we might discover that life indeed existed on Mars and is elsewhere in the Universe. It will confirm other intelligent species are not naturally inclined to kill one another as we are.

    • It seems a bit to optimistic to assume technological progress equates to social/moral progress. If thay is the case, why has humanity not lost any of its desire to commit violence on one another. Why do leaders of countries still find it necessary to send their young citizens into an early death to achieve personal goals and agendas. Maybe….just maybe…an alien species became so successful because they aggressively culled the weak and unproductive members from their society. Anyone of their species below a certain intellect, with physical handicaps, formed addictions, victimized for personal gain and not for the gain of society….anyone that was below bar was immediately removed and destroyed. They made sure the hive was the number one priority and anyone holding the hive back…gone. We cannot expect any other intelligence to be enlighteneded. Hopefully people are right and an intelligent race will help us see the love and light of our universe…but we cannot expect it as a certainty.

  20. In 1976 the Mars Viking Lander conducted a simple experiment. It deposited some Martian soil into a beaker that contained a growth medium. (a petri dish) If there was bacterial life it would grow and release a gas that would prove something was growing on the medium. And guess what happened? Something grew! Nasa claimed it was a false positive and has never repeated the experiment in any of the future landers! Why?? Read about it here: http://journalofastrobiology.com/VikingLRExperimentDavis.pdf
    Why does NASA and our Government keep this a secret? (I don’t know.) But I can speculate. How would the world react if we found out we had been genetically altered by visitors to Earth? How would we react if we found out that there are cures for our most deadly diseases? Or that our lives could be drastically extended. How would we react if we found out that there are ways of producing unlimited amounts of clean electrical power and oil was no longer needed? What if we found out that all of the technological advancements were only shared with a few well connected people. I can also imagine even more horrible possibilities but should just a few people on this planet decide to keep us ignorant? To lie to us about the most important discovery in human history? Sometimes I think we are meant to be just little workers for big corporations and any social disruption that would harm profits must be eliminated. This secret has been impossible to keep. The government has used disinformation and character assassination to try and keep the secret. Now they are scrambling to find new controls to keep us inline.

  21. Oh of course everyone should bow before N.A.S.A because they are never wrong, they never make mistakes, and they never rush anything that could cause an untimely and inexcusable explosion. And of course they never lie to us, they never cut video feeds when something comes into view and they never doctor the images before us menial petty humans get to see them. So of course we should take everything as gospel truth. Wake up people. Credit to ROD Cambridge Excellent post.

  22. Mars is not red. The rover is fake and there’s life on Mars Now and they’re fighting. Have been fighting for years and years. One group is the Insectoid race.

  23. He is referring to the first test Nasa conducted on the Viking mission. Dr. Levin designed a test to check for microbial life that was ultra sensitive and it came back positive on every test. However, since a far less sensitive test did not detect the any microbial life, Nasa made the decision to state “no life”. Dr. Levin had been fighting since 1976 to have his tests recognized, redone, reviewed…whatever it took to have people see that his Nasa approved experiment was legitimate and accurate.

  24. Where does the article: Evidence of Life on Mars? Come from? I reviewed it, although not wholy in depth, and did not see supporting information linking any of it to a credible source. I truly believe there is life on other planets and the only way we will find out about it at this stage of Our Lives is to be the recipient of contact. This thread in my opinion is another example of how we as a civilization are opposed to working together to better our understanding of a much bigger picture. The world was flat at one point.

  25. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  26. The comments are hilarious better than soul brothers in space

  27. Russell, we are indeed going back to the moon. We will be doing a lot on the moon. There has been news for years about this. You should research some space news before posting about space topics. 🙂

  28. No life on Mars is great news. Now we can turn Mars into a Forge World with factories and (protected) cities!! Just think, MOST skilled labor will want to go where the jobs are. With no polluting factories here on Earth, we can truly make Earth a paradise while Mars can be our factory and garbage dump! (And prison, perfect place to dump millions of unwanted criminals!) You know what? I just laid out a path for mankind. I think I just outwitted Elon Musk on the “vision thing” so here is the plan: Use criminals as slave labor to build mankind’s products in covered factories and then ship back said goods to Earth and sell for a profit. OR we could use free labor from voluntary colonists. We might have to use convict labor before free labor can really be practical on Mars. Also with early settlement there are bound to be fatal mistakes, better to lose criminals in accidents than free colonists!

  29. Regarding the article on IS There Life on Mars? posted by another commenter, “…and all this work collectively weighs in favor of biology”, does not *prove* life exists. It means the authors believe their theory is a strong theory. More research needs to be done before something more definitive is observed.

  30. People planning to leave Earth for Mars as if terraforming a dead planet were easier than living on a living one. One of modern worlds great delusions. Course looking at all the conspiracy nut jobs on this comment panel delusion is a common human trait.

  31. “I heard that life on earth would end and now I can help move us to a new planet” where life has already ended, what a waste of resources.

  32. Nasa also knows Mars is flat!

  33. i dont understand the fixation of finding life. Explore and learn for the sake of learning. If finding life is the major motivation, though, they will never admit to finding it because interest (and funding) will wane.

  34. I think that earth was once like Mars and was transformed .start with vegetation then introduce giant animals like dinosaurs make more methane and raise the oxygen levels to get mars habital for humans .it’s going g to take alot of work I’ll be gone before its done.lol iam 57 yrs old .but it is possible to transform the planets in a couple hundred dred yrs.

  35. Ralph Wolfgang | August 14, 2022 at 7:23 am | Reply

    I am amazed that such a bunch of idiots who commented actually read the article. At the same time, I am not surprised those same idiots didn’t learn anything from reading it.

  36. Will one thing is I’ll bet the car on, we’ve be seeing a make-up or something of that landing.

  37. So many negative comments about life on Mars. These same people would probably post derogatory comments about water on Mars before this (big discovery).
    THERE IS LIFE ON MARS. NASA KNOWS THERE IS LIFE AND HAS LIED ABOUT IT FOR DECADES.
    NASA sadly disseminates disinformation. The US Navy officially claims that UFO’s are real. Why does NASA continue to say there is no such thing? Simple, they are lying.

  38. The insight I took from the article had nothing to do with if we find life. More so, the possibility that making and underground habitat to saport human life. The protection from radiation is one advantage. Another may be the resources of what is underground. Finally the equater is soft and warm in comparison to the rest of the planet! This is my 1st post ID love comment ❤

  39. Shows how much you guys know. My ancestors are from Mars. I have proof in photos! They all had red hair. Explain that!

  40. Thank you for the information I appel you please read my Quaran 1400 yes ago my prophet Muhammad piece be upon him what science find out today future Almighty mention in Quaran you will surprise just try n read once you will surprise what All-mighty ourcreater prepair for us
    Read chapter Surah Rahman
    You will get knowledge about whole universe

  41. Here’s the funny thing about this talk about moving to Mars because earth becomes uninhabitable.

    If all environmental regulations on earth were eliminated completely for 200 years, and we had a nuclear war. Then during the entire 200 years we teraformed mars. Earth would still be 1000% more habitable than Mars.

    I’ve read extensively about Mars because I’m very interested in us going there, so I have a pretty good understanding of the conditions on Mars. So maybe someone can explain the reasoning behind that theory?

    Earth is actually still pretty nice and most developed countries besides China and maybe Russia have pretty strict environmental regulations. Mars will never be a better place to live than earth. It will never become close to being as habitable as Earth because it doesn’t have any magnetic field remaining so it’s bombarded with radiation and it doesn’t have much of an atmosphere.

  42. The planet was no different than Earth. Other than distance from the star. It was hit with a planet killer opposite direction or English in pool. Sloughing off high gas or liquid point is extremely likely in that time span decor point death.

  43. To live on Mars, obviously we’ll need massive structures that can withstand radiation but also turn radiation into energy to power everything within these massive structures. We can make big magnifying glasses to reflect the sun’s energy to help generate heat or maybe to help grow food or other resources. We can make windmills way more massive than earth to take advantage of the windstorms on Mars to generate even more energy for the major amount of resources we’ll need to populate Mars because the number one resource Mars is going to need is humans to operate the machines and the millions of factories that make build or invent to make Mars habitable. Even if we have the resources here on earth right now to make Mars habitable, we don’t have the resources to bring it to mars. Especially on a timely matter for The End is near.

    My story about “Time Conquers All” Scientists fail to meet the timelines to save humanity because Time is unpredictable and the greediness of science pushing for more natural resources to make their goals possible don’t take into account of the damage they caused that would speed up Time to take affect on future problems a lot sooner.

    Wow I’m drunk.

  44. Water will naturally sink down due to gravity until repelled by internal heat or being frozen on its way down. The penetrating radar needs to model this.

    This also explains why geothermal projects are super dangerous for surface water drop, see California and Germany (Rhine) for example.

    • What internal heat? Is the crust of Mars not cold enough to freeze water? I though it is. It’s my understanding that if we are going to realistically have a colony there then we are going to need either a nuclear fission or fusion reactor. Interestingly enough, fusion is making exponential progress.

  45. LOL, great. So if there is life there it will likely be anaerobic or more like clostridium botulinum when we get there.

  46. Rod , I read the article that you posted . There seems to be a lot of could , would , maybe in the article but no real evidence of life

  47. Just because a journal says it is peer reviewed does not make it peer reviewed! Where are the references, who peer reviewed it???

  48. Rod Cambridge, your “source” for your claim NASA has buried their findings of life on Mars for 40 years isn’t quite the red hot smoking gun of peer reviewed studies you purported. In fact, it just barely straddles their many previous announcements of possible, potential, maybe-if-you-squint, ‘Mars may have once cradled burgeoning life, and we’re hoping the evidence will support that notion’, but it also openly conveys the brutal facts that we don’t, and can’t know if life once (or currently) sprang forth on Mars, and even IF we can confirm it has, we’ll STILL need to rule out Earth as the Genesis for ‘native’ Martian life.

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