Giant glaciers of ice may be lurking all over Mars, hidden from view by dust on the surface.
That’s the surprising conclusion of a study that found that large amounts of ice were not just at the Martian poles, but likely towards the equator as well.
It means that, if all ice were to be spread across the surface of Mars, the entire planet would be covered in more than 3.3ft (one metre).
The latest research was carried out by scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Images from several Martian satellites had revealed the shape of glaciers just below the surface, and confirmed most were made of water-ice.
And now the researchers have measured how big the glaciers are, and their similarity to glaciers on Earth.
In total there is more than 150 billion cubic metres of ice on Mars, which could ‘cover the entire surface of Mars with 1.1 metres of ice,’ explained Dr Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson at the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute.
She added that the ice closer to the Martian equator was ‘an important part of Mars’ water reservoir.’
There are thought to be thousands of glacier-like formations on the planet in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
They are located on Mars between latitude 30.0 and 50.0 – equivalent to just south of Denmark’s location on Earth.
As the ice has not evaporated into space, the dust must be protecting it.
If the ice were unprotected, it would evaporate and become water vapour, owing to the low atmospheric pressure on Mars.
‘We have looked at radar measurements spanning ten years back in time to see how thick the ice is and how it behaves,’ Dr Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson explained.
‘A glacier is after all a big chunk of ice and it flows and gets a form that tells us something about how soft it is.
‘We then compared this with how glaciers on Earth behave and from that we have been able to make models for the ice flow.’