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NASA finds Mars water ice deposits astronauts could reach with a shovel

According to NASA's "treasure map," future red planet astronauts won't have to carry all their water from Earth.

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This map shows the presence of water ice on Mars. "Cool colors are closer to the surface than warm colors; black zones indicate areas where a spacecraft would sink into fine dust; the outlined box represents the ideal region to send astronauts for them to dig up water ice," said NASA.

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA may be working on getting back to the moon right now, but it really has eyes for Mars. That means thinking ahead to the best place to land humans on the red planet. We may end up aiming for an area with easy access to water ice. 

NASA released a look at a "treasure map for water ice on Mars" on Tuesday. It highlights a region known as Arcadia Planitia where the planet appears to be hiding shallow ice deposits that could supply astronauts with valuable water resources for both drinking and the creation of rocket fuel.

"You wouldn't need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel," said NASA's Sylvain Piqueux, lead author of a paper on the water ice published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The researchers pulled data from observations made by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft to create the map.

Water is heavy and hard to transport, especially considering the great distances involved in a commute to Mars. It would be a lot less expensive to mine water directly from the planet after arrival. 

NASA isn't the only space group eyeing the Arcadia region of Mars. SpaceX has also been scoping out this area as a possible landing site for a future Starship mission.

It's a good thing NASA has been developing more flexible spacesuits for astronauts. They may need to do a little digging on Mars one day.

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Originally published 11:19 a.m. PT