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Illustration of Mars Express with MARSIS antenna deployed

MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) is a low frequency, pulse-limited radar sounder and altimeter developed by the University of Rome La Sapienza and Alenia Spazio (today Thales Alenia Space Italy).[1] The Italian MARSIS instrument is operational on the European Space Agency, Mars Express orbiter mission.

The MARSIS Principal Investigator is Giovanni Picardi from the University of Rome "La Sapienza", Italy.[2] It features ground-penetrating radar capabilities, which uses synthetic aperture techniques and a secondary receiving antenna to isolate subsurface reflections.[3] MARSIS identified buried basins on Mars.[4] MARSIS was funded by ASI (Italy) and NASA (USA).[5]



On May 4, 2005, Mars Express deployed the first of its two 20-metre-long radar booms for the MARSIS experiment. At first the boom didn't lock fully into place;[6] however, exposing it to sunlight for a few minutes on May 10 fixed the glitch.[7] The second 20 m boom was successfully deployed on June 14. Both 20 m booms were needed to create a 40 m dipole antenna for MARSIS to work; a less crucial 7-meter-long monopole antenna was deployed on June 17. The radar booms were originally scheduled to be deployed in April 2004, but this was delayed out of fear that the deployment could damage the spacecraft through a whiplash effect. Due to the delay it was decided to split the four-week commissioning phase in two parts, with two weeks running up to July 4 and another two weeks in December 2005.

The deployment of the booms was a critical and highly complex task requiring effective inter-agency cooperation ESA, NASA, Industry and public Universities.


MARSIS transmits a series of modulated chirps at frequencies between 1.8 and 5.0 MHz in subsurface sounding mode, with a 1 MHz bandwidth. It also emits chirps sweeping between 0.1 and 5.4 MHz when ionosphere sounding. Depending on mode the pulsewidth is 30, 91 or 250 μs and the nominal Pulse repetition frequency is 130 Hz. Transmitted power is either 1.5 or 5 W.[3]

Nominal science observations began during July 2005.[8]

A 2012 paper by the MARSIS team measured a difference between the dielectric constant of the northern and southern high-latitude regions.[9] This is evidence that the material that fills the northern basin is a lower-density material, which could be interpreted as evidence of an ancient northern ocean.[10]

Using MARSIS data, 22 Italian scientists reported in July 2018 the discovery of a subglacial lake on Mars, 1.5 km (0.93 mi) below the southern polar ice cap, and extending horizontally about 20 km (12 mi), the first known stable body of water on Mars.[11][12][13][14]

Size of the MARSIS antenna (horizontal line) compared to the spacecraft and a human silhouette

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Sounding Mars with SHARAD & MARSIS". IEEE. 30 July 2007.
  2. ^ "MARSIS: Subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter". ESA. 25 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b "MARSIS instrument home page". Due to severe limitations on the available mass, the antennas are of a novel design, each consisting of a folding composite tube that supports a pair of wires constituting the conductive element of the antenna. The antennas are deployed by pyrotechnic release mechanisms.
  5. ^ Buried Basins Discovered by Radar Undated
  6. ^ Glitch strikes Mars Express's radar boom - space, New Scientist, May 9, 2005
  7. ^ Mars Express's kinky radar straightened out - space, New Scientist, May 12, 2005
  8. ^ ESA Portal, Mars Express radar ready to work
  9. ^ Jérémie Mouginot, Antoine Pommerol, Pierre Beck, Wlodek Kofman and Stephen M. Clifford, "Dielectric map of the Martian northern hemisphere and the nature of plain filling materials," Geophysical Research Letters, 39, No. 2, 19 Jan 2012 (abstract)(article at UCI) accessed Nov. 17 2014
  10. ^ Emily Lakdawalla, "Has Mars Express MARSIS data proved that Mars once had a northern ocean?" Planetary Society, February 7, 2012 (accessed Nov. 17 2014)
  11. ^ Orosei, R.; et al. (25 July 2018). "Radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars". Science. 361 (6401): 490–493. doi:10.1126/science.aar7268. PMID 30045881. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  12. ^ Chang, Kenneth; Overbye, Dennis (25 July 2018). "A Watery Lake Is Detected on Mars, Raising the Potential for Alien Life - The discovery suggests that watery conditions beneath the icy southern polar cap may have provided one of the critical building blocks for life on the red planet". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  13. ^ "Huge reservoir of liquid water detected under the surface of Mars". EurekAlert. 25 July 2018. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  14. ^ Halton, Mary (25 July 2018). "Liquid water 'lake' revealed on Mars". BBC News. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  15. ^ R. Orosei et al., "Science results from the MARSIS and SHARAD subsurface sounding radars on Mars and their relevance to radar sounding of icy moons in the Jovian system", EPSC2010-726, European Planetary Science Congress 2010, Vol. 5 (accessed Nov. 17 2014)

External linksEdit