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Scientists think there might be underground volcanoes on Mars

Scientists believe a liquid water lake discovered last year beneath Mars’ southern ice cap would need an underground volcano to prevent it from freezing over.

The new study, published in journal Geophysical Research Letters, doesn’t take any sides regarding the water lake, which was detected in July 2018.

At the time, scientists said they had used ground-penetrating radar and found a 20km-wide (12 mile) lake about a mile beneath the planet’s southern ice cap.

They proposed salts in the lake kept the water, which has a temperature as low as -68C (-90F), from freezing over.

However, new research suggests that recent volcanic activity – specifically magmatic activity, the formation of a magma chamber – would be required for there to be enough heat to keep the water liquid beneath the thick ice.

“Different people may go different ways with this, and we’re really interested to see how the community reacts to it,” said Dr Michael Sori, an associate staff scientist at the University of Arizona and co-lead author on the paper.

The announcement comes as NASA prepares to pull the plug on the Opportunity rover, which went silent after more than 15 years of operation on Mars.

Opportunity has been silent for eight months following an enormous dust storm on the planet.

NASA said it sent a final series of recovery commands on Tuesday, giving it until Wednesday for a response.

The InSight lander is due to land on Mars in November. Pic: NASA
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The InSight lander touched down last year

Among the spacecraft left on the planet is the InSight rover, which touched down last year equipped with a British-made seismometer that will listen for tremors.

The instrument could help contribute to an understanding of the activity inside Mars’ core, including volcanic activity and cracks forming in the planet’s crust.

If there is volcanic activity on Mars, it could have significant implications for the suggestion the planet is a geologically active planet.

Presence of liquid water on Mars would also have huge implications both for finding life outside of Earth, and for human exploration of the planet.

“We think that if there is any life, it likely has to be protected in the subsurface from the radiation,” said Dr Ali Bramson, also at the University of Arizona and Dr Sori’s co-lead author.

“If there are still magmatic processes active today, maybe they were more common in the recent past, and could supply more widespread basal melting.

“This could provide a more favourable environment for liquid water and thus, perhaps, life.”