Phoenix Mars Lander Confirms Martian Water

Jul 31, 2008
This partial view of a full-circle panorama shows NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander and the polygonal patterning of the ground at the landing area. The image is in approximately true color. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University

(PhysOrg.com) -- Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or 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."

With enticing results so far and the spacecraft in good shape, NASA also announced operational funding for the mission will extend through Sept. 30. The original prime mission of three months ends in late August. The mission extension adds five weeks to the 90 days of the prime mission.

"Phoenix is healthy and the projections for solar power look good, so we want to take full advantage of having this resource in one of the most interesting locations on Mars," said Michael Meyer, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The soil sample came from a trench approximately 2 inches deep. When the robotic arm first reached that depth, it hit a hard layer of frozen soil. Two attempts to deliver samples of icy soil on days when fresh material was exposed were foiled when the samples became stuck inside the scoop. Most of the material in Wednesday's sample had been exposed to the air for two days, letting some of the water in the sample vaporize away and making the soil easier to handle.

"Mars is giving us some surprises," said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. "We're excited because surprises are where discoveries come from. One surprise is how the soil is behaving. The ice-rich layers stick to the scoop when poised in the sun above the deck, different from what we expected from all the Mars simulation testing we've done. That has presented challenges for delivering samples, but we're finding ways to work with it and we're gathering lots of information to help us understand this soil."

Since landing on May 25, Phoenix has been studying soil with a chemistry lab, TEGA, a microscope, a conductivity probe and cameras. Besides confirming the 2002 finding from orbit of water ice near the surface and deciphering the newly observed stickiness, the science team is trying to determine whether the water ice ever thaws enough to be available for biology and if carbon-containing chemicals and other raw materials for life are present.

The mission is examining the sky as well as the ground. A Canadian instrument is using a laser beam to study dust and clouds overhead.

"It's a 30-watt light bulb giving us a laser show on Mars," said Victoria Hipkin of the Canadian Space Agency.

A full-circle, color panorama of Phoenix's surroundings also has been completed by the spacecraft.

"The details and patterns we see in the ground show an ice-dominated terrain as far as the eye can see," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, lead scientist for Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager camera. "They help us plan measurements we're making within reach of the robotic arm and interpret those measurements on a wider scale."

Provided by NASA

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thales
2.2 / 5 (12) Jul 31, 2008
"With enticing results so far and the spacecraft in good shape, NASA also announced operational funding for the mission will extend through Sept. 30."

Ha, the mission leader knows how to play the game doesn't he! I bet they could have confirmed water some time ago, but he maximized the political usefulness of the 'discovery' by delaying it until a month before the mission was scheduled to end. Brilliant.
googleplex
2.3 / 5 (10) Jul 31, 2008
Sadly that is the nature of securing research $s.
Could that sticky dirt and water on the scoop be an exotic alien substance called "mud"?
They are digging into perma frost dirt. Then when it is exposed to the sun on the scoop it goes sticky. Perhaps some of the water is not immediately vaporizing, but is entering the liquid phase. Even if only temporary it would still create dried mud. Wow this idea has to be worth a nobel prize! ;-)
Mayday
4.4 / 5 (14) Jul 31, 2008
In grade school we cancelled class to watch coverage of John Glenn. I took days off school to watch lift-offs and splash downs. Neil walked on the moon while I was still in high school. Imagine how today's ultra-slo-mo space program looks to my eyes.

Imagine how ridiculous this chatter over the scum-sucking politics of research grants looks to my eyes.

Hey, here's an idea! Let's go to Mars in 30 years!?! :-/

Get a grip. Let's go tomorrow!!

Seriously. We have, right now, everything it takes. And Mars has water. Regular old ice. And it's two inches down.

Come on kids. Can you get off your duffs and raise some enthusiasm for something truly worthwhile? NASA, you need serious help. And I don't see that white knight anywhere nearby...
DoctorKnowledge
4.3 / 5 (15) Jul 31, 2008
Mayday, you and Burt Rutan have something in common. I think that's the horse to back.

As an ex-NASA type, who endured countless meetings where "things" were discussed, but little "done", there isn't much hope of changing them. (I was at a research center). Many, many people who are in NASA now joined for job security. A good part of the organization would need to be fired. (They even have a saying something like that in NASA.) What was different about the Saturn V days is that top people from all walks of life felt it their duty to join (that's actually the pitch NASA made). And they were joining the administrative genius of people such as Werner von Braun and Chris Craft. I met no managers even remotely similar to them in my years there.
deatopmg
1 / 5 (10) Jul 31, 2008
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deatopmg
3.7 / 5 (10) Jul 31, 2008
DoctorKnowledge has hit the nail squarely on the head! But it's no different than the rest of the Gov't.

In the beginning people went to Phila/Washington to serve the nation in time of need then went home. Now they go to D.C. to serve themselves and never leave (Well the dis-illusioned ones do).
Time for congressional term limits and employment time limits for the civil "servants" including the sponges at NASA.
out7x
1.5 / 5 (16) Aug 01, 2008
Still waiting for evidence of ice on mars. This article says nothing.
DoctorKnowledge
4 / 5 (12) Aug 01, 2008
May I introduce everyone to out7x? A person who rates articles and comments on personalities. It's amazing you bother with science at all, out7x, you appear to make up your mind based on who your friends are, and who has said things in the past you disagree with. Do you plan on returning to honest opinions at any point in the future?
vlam67
2.8 / 5 (4) Aug 01, 2008
As everyone knows really cold ice shaves stick to anything that is not warm enough.They could have designed a slightly heated scoop and avoided all the trouble of sticking frozen sample muck. But, my congratulations to the scientists all the same, making things work in the adverse unexpected circumstance.
TimESimmons
3 / 5 (8) Aug 01, 2008
That must be quire a relief. Martian winter approaching, all those billions spent and "Mum! me dirt's sticking to me shovel!"
Captain_Sakonna
3.8 / 5 (4) Aug 01, 2008
So I guess they didn't have problems with that short circuit again? It isn't mentioned in the article and it sounds like they think the lander is working well. . .so does that mean the rest of the ovens are still usable?
weewilly
1.8 / 5 (4) Aug 01, 2008
I'm surprised at those that comment negatively on what is being accomplished SLOWLY on Mars. If you think that this whole program and science being conducted on the 4th planet from the sun is too slow, why don't you sign up NOW to be rocketed to that planet and setup things there to survive? I'm old and before I want to see our young brilliant people sent to this planet I want to be damn sure we are providing them the best chance of survival. Shouldn't you be in agreement with that?
GDM
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2008
I'm old and I'm ready to go now. You won't even have to pay my social security if I arrive on Mars in one piece, preferably alive.
TrustTheONE
3.2 / 5 (6) Aug 01, 2008
NASA should now stop loosing time and money with old technology and go for something BOLD, like the SPACE ELEVATOR. With a toy like this we could have ** SOON ** entire shipyards around earth. BUT NASA will move only if the CHINESE threatens the space run, like when USSR did.
Mayday
4 / 5 (4) Aug 01, 2008
Oh yes, weewilly, I agree on the safety concerns. But there is a world of work that can begin now that we know that there is water and lots of it(apparently). And importantly, it is extremely accessible and concentrated.

And there is much to do that won't involve astronauts at all! First a small army of machines should be sent to start digging and tunneling into the landscape to create underground habitats for the coming human explorers. Then there should be machines that can begin seriously mining, purifying and processing the water for oxygen, hydrogen and, well, water.

I ten years time, I would like to see a small and virtually self-sufficient martian resort assembled and ready for human habitation. I mean, do you realize what all that water means? Air, food, heat, light. And flush toilets.

The first person on Mars should be welcomed by a team of robots presenting fresh air(in bottled form), a warm meal and a hot shower.

I would propose a contest/X-prize-like competition for the best, fastest, smartest, most useful machinery to start to make this happen.

Personally, I'd like some digging to commence so that we can get a look at the obvious subterrenean system of lava tubes! There, I believe, is where the action is.

Let the games begin! And let's hope the Chinese aren't reading this!
TimESimmons
2 / 5 (7) Aug 02, 2008
beep-welcome-to-mars-beep-please-fill-in-this-imigration-form-beep-no-smoking-beep
superhuman
1 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2008
Grats on finding the water finally.

That said I would also like to know how the presence of water was confirmed. Last time they claimed anything evaporating has to be water so I'd be more inclined to trust their results if I could evaluate the logic behind it myslef.
noosfractal
3 / 5 (6) Aug 02, 2008
The TEGA instrument includes a mass spectrometer. Water has a distinctive mass spectrum.

http://planetary....yzer.htm
xen_uno
2 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2008
Great mission for sure ... so why manned exploration there? I see no point short term (next 50 years). Things aren't bad enough here (yet) to warrant it. Bush supporting such a mission is unreal. He probably thinks that Mars is some little isolated oil rich country in the middle east.
mabjar
1 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2008
i guess the next best thing to prepare is how we can propagate plants in mars.
googleplex
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2008
I think we should colonize the moon first.
If it takes a year to send supplies to mars the base needs to be self sufficient. Hence we need to learn our lessons on the moon first.
As a crude example think about 12 months without loo paper or a screw driver.
The main reason that there is no money for these projects is that there is no money. We should ask the Saudi's for a donation as they are the ones getting filthy rich.
GDM
1 / 5 (1) Aug 06, 2008
The reason there is no money for the project is because there is a perception that it will be shot into space. There is plenty of money in the profits to be made, and all of that will be spent and made in American jobs, unless we forfeit all of space to other countries.