Mars echo from Italian radar reported

September 19, 2006

Italian and U.S. space agency officials say they've received the first signals from an Italian radar orbiting Mars to search for water or ice on the planet.

The radar signals from the SHARAD (shallow subsurface radar) system showed it was working perfectly, Italian officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., said.

The head of the Italian Space Agency, Sergio Vetrella, told the Italian news agency ANSA the signals confirmed "Italy's leadership in the sector." SHARAD is mounted on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Observer, the second probe to visit Mars in two years.

Another Italian radar system aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft is MARSIS -- Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding. It maps wide areas at about 16.5 feet under the surface, while SHARAD scans in greater detail to a depth of about 6.5 feet, officials told ANSA.

"The two radars were designed to work in tandem," said SHARAD project coordinator Enrico Flamini of the Italian Space Agency. MARSIS, he explained, is designed to find oceans deep under Mars' surface, while SHARAD looks for pools or rivers just under the planet's crust.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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