[ExI] taste test: water on Mars N. pole

Damien Broderick 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).

Extension granted

"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 
[September 30]."

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.

Habitable environment

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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