Phoenix lander confirms presence of water ice on Mars

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Monday, June 23, 2008

For the first time ever, NASA has confirmed the presence of water ice on Mars. The Phoenix lander, which landed on Mars on May 25, has confirmed to NASA scientists that the white substance it found while digging a trench on June 15 is water ice.

In the lower left corner of the left image, a group of lumps is visible. In the right image, the lumps have disappeared, similar to the process of evaporation.
Image: NASA/JPL.

"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," said Peter Smith, the primary investigator for Phoenix, at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench informally called "Dodo-Goldilocks" when Phoenix's Robotic Arm enlarged that trench on June 15, during the 20th Martian day, or sol, since landing. Several were gone when Phoenix looked at the trench days later. The chunks were visible on June 16, but when Phoenix looked at the trench again on June 19, some of the material had disappeared, implying that it may have evaporated or melted.

"This tells us we've got water ice within reach of the arm, which means we can continue this investigation with the tools we brought with us," said primary investigator for Phoenix's stereo imager, Mark Lemmon.

Scientists are planning to examine the substance and the soil surrounding it more closely. They plan to test it for signs of organic material and minerals, and hope to find out if the ice was ever a liquid which could have supported microbial life.

In December of 2006, scientists announced that the Mars Global Surveyor captured images of deposits in gullies on the surface of the planet Mars which have been created since the areas were photographed nine years ago. These deposits were believed to be the residue of liquid water breaking out of cliffs and crater walls, carrying sediment downhill through the gullies, and later evaporating. The gullies are located inside the Terra Sirenum crater and the Centauri Montes regions.

In June 2007 the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft discovered ice deposits in the South Pole of Mars that are larger than the state of Texas. Scientists say that there is enough water in the deposits to cover the entire planet with up to 36 feet of water if the ice was to melt.


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