The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive


Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 14:30:27 -0700
From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <info@jpl.nasa.gov>
To: "sondheim@panix.com" <sondheim@panix.com>
Subject: NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended




   [NASA-NEWS-600-1172.GIF]

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown   202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters,Washington

dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson
shammond@lpl.arizona.edu

                            RELEASE: 2008-153 July 31, 2008

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended

TUCSON, Ariz. -- 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."

The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona with project
management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and
development partnership at Lockheed Martin in Denver. International
contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel,
Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; the Max
Planck Institute in Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

For more about Phoenix, visit:



http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix



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