A body of water has been detected on Mars, according to a new report published by Italian researchers at the Italian Space Agency.
The approximately 20km-wide body of water sits beneath the planet’s south polar ice cap.
The report says radar profiles collected between May 2012 and December 2015 show evidence of liquid water trapped below the ice of the South Polar Layered Deposits.
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“Anomalously bright subsurface reflections are evident within a well-defined, 20 kilometre wide zone which is surrounded by much less reflective areas,” the report, published in journal Science, reads.
“Quantitative analysis of the radar signals shows that this bright feature has high relative dielectric permittivity matching that of water-bearing signals.
“We interpret this feature as a stable body of liquid water on Mars.”
Researchers were unable to conclude the depth of the lake, but estimate it to be a minimum of one metre.
Evidence of water on Mars is not new. There have long been available images of dried river and lake beds, but as the climate on the planet has since cooled to levels below Earth's polar climates the discovery of a stable, liquid body of water is significant.
Space commentator Matthew Pavletich told The AM Show on Thursday there is still a long way to go in the hunt for life on the red planet.
"Space agencies of mankind have been looking for it for a long time. The first successful landing on Mars was in July 1976, the American Viking probes. They thought they'd found organic life then, but it turned out it was more of a chemical reaction in the near-surface soil.
"The [land] area of Mars is larger than Earth because it's not covered in water. Sorry to be a downer, but it's probably going to take decades and decades more exploration before you actually get people there and drill into the ground and go, 'Look - we found microbes swimming around in the subsurface water.'
"We're at the very beginnings of exploring it."