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Water Ice Permafrost on Mars and on the Moon  

Maxim Litvak and Anton Sanin

The Moon and Mars are the most explored planetary bodies in the solar system. For the more than 60 years of the space era, dozens of science robotic missions have explored the Moon and Mars. The primary scientific goal for many of these missions was declared to be a search for surface or ground water/water ice and gaining an understanding of its distribution and origin. Today, for the Moon, the focus of scientific exploration has moved to the lunar polar regions and permanently shadowed regions (PSRs). PSRs do not receive any direct sunlight and are frozen at very low temperatures (< 120 K), acting as cold traps. They are considered to be a storehouse that preserves records of the solar system’s evolution by trapping water ice and potentially other volatile deposits brought by comets and asteroids over billions of years. For Mars, the water/water ice search was part of an attempt to find traces of ancient extraterrestrial life and possibly to understand how life appeared on Earth. Current Mars is cold and dry, but its high latitudes and some equatorial regions are enriched with surface and subsurface water ice. Scientists argue that oceans could have existed on ancient Mars if it was warm and wet and that different life forms could have originated similar to Earth’s. If this is the case, then biomarkers could be preserved in the Martian ground ice depositions. Another popular idea that ties water ice permafrost on the Moon and Mars is related to the expected future human expansion to deep space. The Moon and Mars are widely considered to be the first destinations for future manned space-colony missions or even space-colony missions. In this scenario, the long-term presence and survival of astronauts on the lunar or Martian surface strongly depend on in situ resource utilization (ISRU). Water ice is at the top of the ISRU list because it could be used as water for astronauts’ needs. Its constituents, oxygen and hydrogen, could be used for breathing and for rocket fuel production, respectively. The Moon is the closest body to Earth and discussion about presence of water ice on the Moon has both scientific and practical interest, especially for planning manned space missions. The focus further in space is on how subsurface water ice is distributed on Mars. A related topic is the debates about whether ancient Mars was wet and warm or if, for most of its history, the Martian surface was covered with glaciers. Finally, there are fundamental questions that should be answered by upcoming Mars and Moon missions.

Article

Water Ice at Mid-Latitudes on Mars  

Frances E. G. Butcher

Mars’s mid-latitudes, corresponding approximately to the 30°–60° latitude bands in both hemispheres, host abundant water ice in the subsurface. Ice is unstable with respect to sublimation at Mars’s surface beyond the polar regions, but can be preserved in the subsurface at mid-to-high latitudes beneath a centimeters-to-meters-thick covering of lithic material. In Mars’s mid-latitudes, water ice is present as pore ice between grains of the martian soil (termed “regolith”) and as deposits of excess ice exceeding the pore volume of the regolith. Excess ice is present as lenses within the regolith, as extensive layers tens to hundreds of meters thick, and as debris-covered glaciers with evidence of past flow. Subsurface water ice on Mars has been inferred indirectly using numerous techniques including numerical modeling, observations of surface geomorphology, and thermal, spectral, and ground-penetrating radar analyses. Ice exposures have also been imaged directly by orbital and landed missions to Mars. Shallow pore ice can be explained by the diffusion and freezing of atmospheric water vapor into the regolith. The majority of known excess ice deposits in Mars’s mid-latitudes are, however, better explained by deposition from the atmosphere (e.g., via snowfall) under climatic conditions different from the present day. They are thought to have been emplaced within the last few million to 1 billion years, during large-scale mobilization of Mars’s water inventory between the poles, equator, and mid-latitude regions under cyclical climate changes. Thus, water ice deposits in Mars’s mid-latitudes probably host a rich record of geologically recent climate changes on Mars. Mid-latitude ice deposits are leading candidate targets for in situ resource utilization of water ice by future human missions to Mars, which may be able to sample the deposits to access such climate records. In situ water resources will be required for rocket fuel production, surface operations, and life support systems. Thus, it is essential that the nature and distribution of mid-latitude ice deposits on Mars are characterized in detail.

Article

Martian Paleoclimate  

Robert M. Haberle

The climate of Mars has evolved over time. Early in its history, between 3.7 and 4.1 billion years ago, the climate was warmer and wetter and the atmosphere thicker than it is today. Erosion rates were higher than today, and liquid water flowed on the planet’s surface, carving valley networks, filling lakes, creating deltas, and weathering rocks. This implies runoff and suggests rainfall and/or snowmelt. Oceans may have existed. Over time, the atmosphere thinned, erosion rates declined, water activity ceased, and cooler and drier conditions prevailed. Ice became the dominate form of surface water. Yet the climate continued to evolve, driven now by large variations in Mars’ orbit parameters. Beating in rhythm with these variations, surface ice has been repeatedly mobilized and moved around the planet, glaciers have advanced and retreated, dust storms and polar caps have come and gone, and the atmosphere has collapsed and re-inflated many times. The layered terrains that now characterize both polar regions are telltale signatures of this cyclical behavior and owe their existence to modulations of the seasonal cycles of dust, water, and CO2. Contrary to the early images from the Mariner flybys of the 1960s, Mars is and has been a dynamically active planet whose surface has been partly shaped through its interaction with a changing atmosphere and climate system.

Article

Landslides in the Solar System  

Maria Teresa Brunetti and Silvia Peruccacci

Landslides are mass movements of rock, earth, or debris. All of these surface processes occur under the influence of gravity, meaning that they globally move material from higher to lower places. On planets other than Earth, these structures were first observed in a lunar crater during the Apollo program, but mass movements have been found on many rocky worlds (solid bodies) in the Solar System, including icy satellites, asteroids, and comets. On Earth, landslides have the effect of shaping the landscape more or less rapidly, leaving a signature that is recognized through field surveys and visual analysis or automatic identification on ground-based, aerial, and satellite images. Landslides observed on Earth and on solid bodies of the Solar System can be classified into different types based on their movement and the material involved in the failure. Material is either rock or soil (or both), with a variable fraction of water or ice; a soil mainly composed of sand-sized or finer particles is referred as earth while debris is composed of coarser fragments. The landslide mass may be displaced in several types of movement, classified generically as falling, toppling, sliding, spreading, or flowing. Such diverse characteristics mean that the size of a landslide (e.g., area, volume, fall height, length) can vary widely. For example, on Earth, their area ranges up to 11 orders of magnitude, while their volume varies by 16 orders, from small rock fragments to huge submarine landslides. The classification of extraterrestrial landslides is based on terrestrial analogs having similarities and characteristics that resemble those found on planetary bodies, such as Mars. The morphological classification is made regardless of the geomorphological environment or processes that may have triggered the slope failure. Comparing landslide characteristics on various planetary bodies helps to understand the effect of surface gravity on landslide initiation and propagation—of tremendous importance when designing manned and unmanned missions with landings on extraterrestrial bodies. Regardless of the practical applications of such study, knowing the morphology and surface dynamics that shape solid bodies in the space surrounding the Earth is something that has fascinated the human imagination since the time of Galileo.