Mars's southern polar ice cap contains enough water to cover the entire planet approximately 36 feet (11 meters) deep if melted, according to a new radar study.
It's the most precise calculation yet for the thickness of the red planet's ice, according to the international team of researchers responsible for the discovery.
Using an ice-penetrating radar to map the south pole's underlying terrain, the scientists calculated that the ice is up to 2.2 miles (3,500 meters) thick in places, said the study's leader, Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The radar, from the Mars Express orbiter, also revealed the surprising purity of the ice, Plaut added.
On average, the ice cap contained less than 10 percent dust, he said. The study will appear in the March 16, 2007 issue of the journal Science.
A Solid Find
The polar ice cap may also contain some frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice, Plaut said. But there can't be much of it, because such a thick layer of dry ice would start to ooze sideways under its own weight.
"Only water ice could support itself that way," Plaut said.
Amazing discovery! All of that water is sure to benefit future manned missions to Mars.