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Perennial water ice identified in the south polar cap of Mars


The inventory of water and carbon dioxide reservoirs on Mars are important clues for understanding the geological, climatic and potentially exobiological evolution of the planet1. From the early mapping observation of the permanent ice caps on the martian poles2,3, the northern cap was believed to be mainly composed of water ice, whereas the southern cap was thought to be constituted of carbon dioxide ice. However, recent missions (NASA missions Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey) have revealed surface structures4, altimetry profiles5, underlying buried hydrogen6, and temperatures of the south polar regions that are thermodynamically consistent with a mixture of surface water ice and carbon dioxide7. Here we present the first direct identification and mapping of both carbon dioxide and water ice in the martian high southern latitudes, at a resolution of 2 km, during the local summer, when the extent of the polar ice is at its minimum. We observe that this south polar cap contains perennial water ice in extended areas: as a small admixture to carbon dioxide in the bright regions; associated with dust, without carbon dioxide, at the edges of this bright cap; and, unexpectedly, in large areas tens of kilometres away from the bright cap.

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Figure 1: Global maps of CO2 and H2O ices at the south pole of Mars.
Figure 2: Near-infrared spectra of CO2 ice and H2O ice in Mars polar units.
Figure 3: Correlated variations of the CO2 ice, H2O ice and albedo.
Figure 4: Transition from CO2 ice to H2O ice.


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Correspondence to Jean-Pierre Bibring.

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Bibring, JP., Langevin, Y., Poulet, F. et al. Perennial water ice identified in the south polar cap of Mars. Nature 428, 627–630 (2004).

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