NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed on Thursday the presence of water on Mars. Although evidence of water has been seen before, this is the first time that the element was "touched and tasted", according to scientist William Boynton.
LOS ANGELES, July 31 (Reuters) - NASA scientists said on
Thursday they had definitive proof that water exists on Mars
after further tests on ice found on the planet in June by the
Phoenix Mars Lander.
"We have water," said William Boynton, lead scientist for
the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer instrument on Phoenix.
"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,
referring to the craft's instruments.
NASA on Thursday also extended the mission of the Phoenix
Mars Lander by five weeks, saying its work was moving beyond
the search for water to exploring whether the red planet was
ever capable of sustaining life.
"We are extending the mission through September 30,"
Michael Meyer, chief scientist for NASA's Mars exploration
program, told a televised news conference.
The extension will add about $2 million to the $420 million
cost of landing Phoenix on May 25 for what was a scheduled
three-month mission, Meyer said.
Phoenix is the latest NASA bid to discover whether water --
a crucial ingredient for life -- ever flowed on Mars and
whether life, even in the form of mere microbes, exists or ever
Phoenix touched down in May on an ice sheet and samples of
the ice were seen melting away in photographs taken by the
lander's instruments in June.
Boynton said that water was positively identified after the
lander's robotic arm delivered a soil sample on Wednesday to an
instrument that identifies vapors produced by heating.
Mission scientists said the extension would give time for
more analysis of Martian samples. They plan to dig two
additional trenches -- dubbed "cupboard" and "neverland" --
using the robotic arm on the Phoenix craft.
"We hope to be able to answer the question of whether this
was a habitable zone on Mars. It will be for future missions to
find if anyone is home on this environment," Phoenix principal
investigator Peter Smith told the news conference.
Mission scientists said in June that Martian soil was more
alkaline than expected and had traces of magnesium, sodium,
potassium and other elements. They described the findings as a
"huge step forward."
Meyer said the scientific proof of the existence of water
meant that Phoenix could "move from looking for water to seeing
whether there were habitats for life.
"We are moving towards understanding whether there were or
could be places on Mars that are habitable," Meyer said.
Date created : 2008-07-31