At last ! White stuff on Mars is water

Excited space scientists believe they have finally found the water on Mars that they have been seeking for more than 30 years. It showed up as bright chunks of white ice in a trench scooped out of the martian soil by their latest lander, Phoenix.

ice on marsThe NASA team were cautious at first, in case the deposits turned out to be a type of mineral salt. But four days after they were uncovered, they have vanished. For the Phoenix scientists, this is convincing evidence that they found ice which has since evaporated into the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere – a process called sublimation.

NASA has been pursuing a mantra of “Follow the water” to plan missions to Mars. Orbiting space probes have photographed what resemble dried up ancient river channels and lake beds. Radar instruments have pointed to huge deposits of ice buried beneath the martian South Pole. And two robot rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have discovered evidence that their own landing sites were awash with water billions of years ago. But the water all evaporated into space due to the thinness of Mars’ atmosphere or was lost underground. Now the buried water has been directly observed.

Phoenix’s principal investigator Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona, said: “It is with great pride and a lot of joy that I announce today that we have found proof that this hard bright material is really water ice and not some other substance.

“The truth we’re looking for is not just looking at ice. It is in finding out the minerals, chemicals and hopefully the organic materials associated with these discoveries.”

He added: “It must be ice. 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.”

A UK Mars expert had told Skymania News last month that the landing site showed features much like in the permafrost regions of Earth’s Arctic regions. NASA has previously prematurely announced the discovery of flowing water on Mars, only to backtrack on their sensational claims.

The Phoenix team have been naming features in Phoenix’s photos after characters in nursery rhymes and children’s stories. The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench nicknamed Dodo-Goldilocks after it was dug by the probe’s robotic arm on Sunday. They can be seen in our picture in the shadow inside the trench.

In another exciting development for the NASA team, the robotic arm has connected with a hard surface while digging another trench, dubbed Snow White 2, in the martian permafrost, 68 degrees north. They believe this may be another layer of ice.

Don’t forget that you can read all about Mars in the Skymania Mars section of our website.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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