Ice on Mars

Jun 19, 2008 11:53pm

The Phoenix Mars Lander dug a trench in the soil of the Martian arctic, and showed, in an image sent four days ago, little white chunks at the bottom.

Now they’re gone.

"It must be ice," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, the principal investigator for the mission, in a statement Thursday night.

"These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it’s ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can’t do that."

The Phoenix Lander has been quietly doing its thing since Memorial Day, using the scoop on its eight-foot arm to dig in the ground and drop samples in small ovens on the ship’s deck where they will be analyzed.  The finding of water ice near Mars’ north pole was not a surprise — there had been findings of it from an orbiting ship in 2002 — but for scientists who have been working on this mission for years, it was, well, cool actually to hit the stuff.

Take a look HERE for before-and-after images of the trench.  In particular, look at the lower left corner of the trench.  In the thin Martian air, ice would not melt, it would sublimate, turning directly into vapor.

And if you haven’t been there, take a look HERE at the Mars Phoenix page on Twitter.  It’s obviously not the probe itself doing the posting there, it’s mostly Veronica McGregor, the news chief at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., which runs the mission. 

" Are you ready to celebrate?" she (or it) wrote. "Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!"

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