Phoenix Lander finds ice beneath Mars' surface

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phoenix_lander_ice.jpgNow that drama of the sticky Mars mud incident is firmly behind it (results are expected on Friday), the Phoenix Mars Lander is on the lookout for fresh Martian discoveries, and they seem to be in no short supply. Using its robotic arm, Phoenix has been scraping away at the rocky surface and uncovered some mysterious white patches that scientists say are most probably ice.

Adding weight to their belief is the fact that the patches of white have been slowly disappearing over the past week, which would eliminate the other possibility that this was a salt deposit. Scientists explain that water ice can change into water vapour when exposed to air, via a process known as sublimation.

The presence of ice on Mars isn’t unexpected. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft already identified large quantities of ice beneath the planet’s surface back in 2002, but we can probably forgive NASA’s team for being a little excited at seeing it firsthand.

That said, we cannot be 100% certain that it is definitely water ice. All we really know is that a hydrogen rich substance is located beneath the surface, that it is white, and that it disappeared fairly rapidly when dug up. As Pete Doherty has not been seen in the area, we’ll go with the ice explanation for now.

So why all this excitement about some ice? Well, because the presence of ice means that on one of its warmer axes there could have been liquid water, and liquid water means there could have been life. Also impurities within the ice has the potential to tell us a great deal about the planet’s climate history.

(via Washington Post)

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