Ice on Mars: What does it mean for humanity?

 Scientists recognized certain landmarks called scarps on the surface of Mars. These scarps are huge slopes covered in a layer of dirt and may tell us more about the history of Mars itself. ( Kevin Gill /Creative Commons)

Scientists recognized certain landmarks called scarps on the surface of Mars. These scarps are huge slopes covered in a layer of dirt and may tell us more about the history of Mars itself. (Kevin Gill/Creative Commons)

Imagine a future where family vacations and cross-country road trips become interplanetary adventures. Instead of flying to Disney World on a commercial jet, you could be taking off in a rocket and leaving Earth’s atmosphere for a more extraterrestrial destination. For years this dream, shared by children and adults alike, has been a fantasy mostly read about in science fiction novels. Recently, however, this idea has become closer to reality with the exploration and discovery of thick sheets of ice below the surface of Mars.

This revelation, made last week, was discovered when scientists recognized certain landmarks called scarps on the surface of Mars. These scarps are huge slopes covered in a layer of dirt that hide “a sheet of ice 300 feet thick that gives the landscape a blue-black hue.” Scientists have discovered eight of these geographical features so far.

Currently, scientists are hoping that these ice formations will yield benefits for both robotic research and human exploration. As this ice has likely been on Mars for around one million years, scientists are optimistic that it will give a hint to the planet’s history, as ice on Earth has served this purpose for our planet in the past. In August of 2017, scientists drilled a core of ice from Antarctica that included ice that was 2.7 million years old. This sample is not only the oldest (by over one million years) that scientists have ever examined; it also contains air bubbles from the time period which, when analyzed, could reveal information about Earth’s atmosphere from nearly 3 million years ago. Scientists are hopeful that a similar process could be used in the ice found on Mars in order to gain information about the history of the planet’s atmosphere, as it is vastly different than ours.

This discovery of ice also makes scientists optimistic for the future of human exploration of the Red Planet. While experts have suspected the presence of water on Mars for over 100 years, there had not been real substantial evidence of it until the 1900s. Further, the amount of water that was suspected to be on Mars in the past never seemed functional or practical to support human exploration, especially in the long-term. However, the presence of this ice discovery changes this theory. Due to the ice, which appears to be relatively clean, scientists are hopeful that Mars will be more suitable for humans in the future. Matt Balme, a planetary scientist, explained, “Astronauts… would have a vital raw material next door. All a thirsty astronaut would have to do would be to go at the scarp with a hammer and, presto, fresh Martian ice chips”.

This impressive discovery raises many questions regarding interplanetary travel between Earth and Mars, especially regarding when and how it would happen. However, more people are asking a third question: should it even occur in the first place?

While many people are interested in space travel for the thrill and novelty of the idea, there are others that think space travel could mean much more to the human race: our survival. It is no secret that our planet is struggling, and the state of our environment continues to decline every day. While our planet continues to be habitable now, and will be for quite some time, at the rate we are going it will not last forever, leading some to think we should begin trying to find other planets to escape to when the going gets tough. Enter Mars.

But what’s to say we won’t destroy Mars in the same way that we have done to Earth? And at what cost would Mars colonization come? These questions are part of the huge ethical dilemma that scientists are facing when it comes to colonization of other planets. While nobody can say exactly how difficult it will be to sustain life and attempt human colonization of Mars, it is clear that many people are interested in this possibility. In doing so, however, we cannot allow ourselves to forget about the problems we have created on our own current planet. While the vision of leaving behind our failing planet for a new one may be extremely appealing, we cannot make the same mistakes somewhere else that we have already made here. Before trying to leave our troubles behind us for new, broader horizons (literally), we might want to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past, in order to help strengthen the promise of our future.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.