[ExI] taste test: water on Mars N. pole
thespike at satx.rr.com
Fri Aug 1 19:53:31 UTC 2008
LOS ANGELES: NASA's Phoenix lander has confirmed that there is water
at the Red Planet's north pole following the analysis of a Martian
surface soil sample.
The discovery was made after the lander's robotic arm delivered a
sample this week to an instrument onboard that identifies vapours
through heating samples.
"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona in
Tucson, lead scientist for the lander's 'oven', the Thermal and
Evolved-Gas Analyser (TEGA).
"We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the
Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix
last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched
and tasted," he said.
Earlier, NASA officials said the Phoenix's mission had been extended
until the end of September, describing its progress so far as "very
Michael Meyer, chief scientist of NASA's Mars Exploration Program,
told reporters that the lander's minimum objectives had been achieved
and that "full mission success" was expected.
"It's been very successful and Mars had proven itself to be very
interesting. Mechanically the spacecraft is operating great, and
there's plenty of power margin to carry us beyond the waning summer,"
Meyer said. "With that, what I'd like to do is announce that we're
going to extend the mission to go till the end of the fiscal year
The lander started digging trenches into Martian soil after touching
down near the planet's north pole on 25 May, revealing a white
substance that scientists suspected was ice in June.
University of Arizona scientist Peter Smith, Phoenix's principal
investigator, said ice scooped up by Phoenix's robotic digging arm
was being analysed to see if conditions on Mars could have supported life.
"We're looking to understand the history of the ice, by trying to
figure out if this ice has ever melted, and through melting has
created a liquid environment that modifies soil," Smith said.
"We're just getting the data back. Through this we also hope to
resolve questions, [such as]: is this a habitable zone on Mars?" he
said. Habitable "meaning that we have periodic liquid water,
materials that are the basic ingredients for lifeforms."
Smith said chemical analyses which indicated soil was alkaline had
baffled scientists. "This is a mystery ... this is a typically acidic
environment, perhaps this had to do with a nearby crater," he said.
Although important nutrients including sodium, potassium and
magnesium had been discovered, no organic materials had been found so far.
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