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Science Instruments: MARSIS

What is MARSIS Searching for Water with MARSIS

What is MARSIS?

An artists drawing of Mars

An artists drawing of Mars
MARSIS is a subsurface radar sounder with a 40-meter (130-foot) antenna on the Mars Express orbiter that will search for water and study the atmosphere.

Once Mars Express is in orbit around Mars, the MARSIS antenna will unfurl and begin its radar analysis. The main objective of MARSIS is to look for water from the martian surface down to about 5 kilometers (3 miles) below. It will provide the first opportunity to detect liquid water directly. It will also be able to characterize the surface elevation, roughness, and radar reflectivity of the planet and to study the interaction of the atmosphere and solar wind in the red planet's ionosphere. During the lifetime of the mission, the instrument will be able to conduct ground-penetrating studies over the entire planet. [More on MARSIS: Searching for Water and Studying the Atmosphere]

How MARSIS Works

An artists drawing of Mars Express
An artists drawing of Mars Express
The technique used by this radar instrument has been used before on Earth. Similar instruments have been flown on low-flying aircraft to probe deep into the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. At Mars, the instrument with its long antenna will fly over the planet, bouncing radio waves over a selected area and then receiving and analyzing the "echoes." Any near-surface liquid water should send a strong signal, while ice would be more difficult to detect since its electrical radar signal would be about the same as rock. The echoes will also help characterize the materials and roughness of the surface.

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