March 11, 2009

Did Phoenix Discover Liquid Water On Mars?

Some scientists believe NASA's Phoenix lander may have discovered evidence of water on Mars, but others contend that it's far from conclusive.

The theory is based on evidence that Phoenix's leg came in contact with droplets of water. In a new paper, set to be presented in Houston at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference this month, 22 mission members say those tiny droplets give credence to the existence of water on the Red Planet.

According to some images, scientists say they see the presence of tiny droplets that merged together and grew in size. This observation has led them to believe that the droplets are indeed made up of liquid water.

However, other mission members say the images are not substantial evidence and they are hard to decipher.

"It's highly unlikely that that's the explanation," Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which managed the mission, told the AP.

"It's just water vapor moving around. It's an ordinary, unexciting explanation."

Phoenix launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with the purpose of seeking out environments that could be habitable for life forms.

After landing near the north pole of the Red Planet, Phoenix took samples of dirt to discover the chemical perchlorate, a highly oxidizing salt. The robot probe also noted the presence of ice at its landing site.

Phoenix Mission Control reported loss of contact with the lander on November 10, 2008.

The report, titled "The Physical and Thermodynamic Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars," will be presented March 23.


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