On the 25th of July 2018, scientists announced an exciting discovery: promising signs were identified of a potential lake lying beneath layers of ice on Mars’s south pole. Researchers have long harboured suspicions that there might be water lurking on the planet, but the research led by Roberto Orosei of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics is the first to point towards a proper body of water, and a large one at that—the lake is estimated to be around 12 miles in width.
The lake was spotted using low-frequency radio wave technology which can penetrate deep beneath the thick layers of ice. However, the low frequency also means that the results gleaned are not as precise, because the resolution of the reflected signal is relatively low. Because of this, the team’s conclusions are not yet certain, although they are confident that the existence of a lake is the most likely option presented by the data.
Could extraterrestrial life be swimming around in this polar lake? It is certainly not a welcoming environment. Firstly, the temperature presents an obstacle to life. The lower limit for the majority of organisms on earth is around –40° Celsius; the ice layer on Mars is around –68° C. Secondly, for the water to exist in liquid form at such low temperatures is has to be very salty—another condition that poses a challenge to life. Similar conditions do exist on earth, for example in deep sea brine pools or in Antarctica’s subglacial lakes, and certain organisms (known as extremophiles) have adapted to life in or around these conditions. So although a Martian lake might kill off even the hardiest of such terrestrial species, it is not unthinkable that Martian organisms may be able to survive there. Finding out whether this is indeed the case would likely involve drilling below the ice, something which is not only beyond our current technological abilities but which would face opposition from the scientific communities. However, signs of methane variation in the planet’s atmosphere has been picked up as a possible sign that Mars’s liquid water may host life.
Applicants for physical and biological science degrees alike may be interested in the ongoing discussion about the potential Martian lake. How likely is it given the evidence that such a lake really exists? How likely is it that life can thrive and survive there?
- Download a Medicine Personal Statement Read our sample Medicine personal statement for application tips. Read more >
- What makes a good interview? The notion of an academic interview with prominent Oxbridge academics is a major... Read more >
- International Application Calendar Keeping on top of the various deadlines and decisions when... Read more >
- June’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- Music Scholarships There is a wide range of musical scholarships available to... Read more >
- PAT overview If you’re applying for Physics, Materials or a relevant joint... Read more >
- Communications expert top tips One of our communications specialists, has his own advice for... Read more >
- Law Reading List Cambridge Law and Oxford Law reading lists and recommended reading. Read more >
- 20 Real-Life Oxford and Cambridge Interview Questions The Oxford and Cambridge interviews are notorious for having academically... Read more >
- Oxford college snapshots With 35 colleges and Permanent Private Halls, choosing how to... Read more >
- TSA overview A huge range of subjects at both Oxford and Cambridge... Read more >
- April’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- Cambridge Language Test overview If you’re applying for Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge,... Read more >
- UCAT mini mock paper & answers If you are applying for Medicine or Dentistry, many of... Read more >
- LNAT mini mock paper & answers The LNAT, required for those applying for Law at Oxford... Read more >
- Using stats: dos and don’ts When making an application, you must be careful about using... Read more >
- 30 Real-Life Oxford and Cambridge Interview Questions The Oxford and Cambridge interviews are notorious for having academically... Read more >
- Philosophy Reading List If you are interested in Philosophy, there are several options... Read more >
- Oxbridge Open Day Guide With open days drawing ever nearer, applicants and parents alike... Read more >
- July’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- Download an Economics Personal Statement 2 “Beyond this essential interest in the subject, I find that... Read more >
- PAT mini mock paper & answers The Physics Aptitude Test or PAT is required by Oxford... Read more >
- Statistics: 2015 Annual Survey Want to find out what your chances are of getting... Read more >
- Music Reading List Applying for Music at Cambridge or Oxford requires a range... Read more >