Far beneath the deeply frozen ice cap at Mars’s south pole lies a lake of liquid water—the first to be found on the Red Planet. Detected from orbit using ice-penetrating radar, the lake is probably frigid and full of salts—an unlikely habitat for life. But the discovery, reported online today in Science, is sure to intensify the hunt for other buried layers of water that might be more hospitable. “It’s a very exciting result: the first indication of a briny aquifer on Mars,” says geophysicist David Stillman of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who was not a part of the study.
The lake resembles one of the interconnected pools that sit under several kilometers of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, says Martin Siegert, a geophysicist at Imperial College London, who heads a consortium trying to drill into Lake Ellsworth under West Antarctica. But the processes that gave rise to a deep lake on Mars are likely to be different. “It will open up a very interesting area of science on Mars,” he says.