June 22, 2008
Mars Lander Finds Water Ice
By JOHN VON RADOWITZ
WATER ice was discovered on Mars yesterday by the Phoenix probe which landed on the planet last month.
Mission controllers had been excited by chunks of white material in the Martian soil exposed by the craft's robot arm.
Yesterday, scientists confirmed what they had hoped . . . that the material was frozen water.
Phoenix principal investigator Dr Peter Smith said: "It is with great pride and a lot of joy that I announce today that we have found proof that this hard, bright material is really water ice and not some other substance."
Scans by orbiting satellites have indicated the presence of water ice under the Martian surface near the planet's north pole.
Phoenix has now established that frozen water really does lie within a foot or two below the surface of the ground in the Martian arctic.
The discovery greatly increases the chances of life having once existed, or possibly still surviving, on Mars.
Scientists will now want to know if the ice has ever melted, as living organisms need liquid water.
Using Phoenix's battery of instruments, they will also conduct tests to see if organic compounds are present that could provide the building blocks of life.
Doug McCuistion, director of Nasa's Mars Program, said: "This specific discovery is the result of an outstanding team working with a robust spacecraft."
The bright material was exposed as Phoenix dug a trench in the Martian surface last Sunday using its robotic arm, which can dig to a depth of 0.5m (1.6ft).
The ice was in a trench to the north west of the lander. More hard material, possibly ice, but darker in colour, has been detected in a second trench on the probe's north east side.
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