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In the trenches  (Source: NASA)
The NASA Phoenix Mars Lander may have found ice

The NASA Phoenix Mars Lander has reportedly found dice-sized ice crumbs that may have melted after being uncovered more than four days ago.  As Phoenix dug around and took images of the Martian soil, scientists noticed several small cubes that vanished over a span of a several days.

"It must be ice," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "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 possible ice was found in a small trench, "Dodo-Goldilocks," which was made larger by a robotic arm on Phoenix.  

Working in a different trench nearby, Phoenix's arm found a hard surface that could be an icy layer, as scientists continue to try and determine if Mars could have been suitable for life.

Scientists have long debated amongst themselves as to whether or not the Red Planet of Mars had signs of liquid ice - one of the main goals of the Phoenix mission.  In 2002, the NASA Mars Odyssey was used to discover a permanent ice cap at the Martian north pole, with scientists believing a larger amount of ice is directly underneath the planet's surface.

NASA's next goal will be to try and collect samples of the water so instruments aboard Phoenix will be able to examine it.  A drill on the robotic arm could be used to break a small sample of the hard surface so it can be transferred to one of Phoenix's ovens.  

The discoveries come one day after Phoenix lost a day of productivity because of a glitch in which Phoenix's computer memory was full of the same image mistakenly copied repeatedly.  Engineers will send a patch over the weekend to make sure the same mistake does not happen again.

The Phoenix lander arrived on Mars on May 25 and is almost one month into a scheduled 90-day mission.

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RE: Problems
By Ammohunt on 6/20/2008 2:28:19 PM , Rating: 2
All that is a given. Compare this mission to say the rovers at the same point in the mission? As far as total scientific data collected. These guys didn’t account for the potential of frozen soil clumping together? They are surprised once the soil melts and whatever holding the soil together vaporizes then passes through the screen into the oven and no water is found? Or any exposed ice would be vaporized by the Martian atmosphere? I also questioned their landing site. On mars you have obvious white patches on the poles yet they didn’t land anywhere near them. Seems like it would be pretty easy to prove water ice on mars by deploying a simple lander on the white spots. Just not impressed overall with this mission I suppose I was spoiled by the rovers success put build another pair of rovers on the poles.

RE: Problems
By adrenalinmad on 6/21/2008 2:37:26 PM , Rating: 3
Here's interesting fact to note, and one that may have influenced NASA's decision not to land directly onto the Martian polar ice caps...

In winter the North polar cap becomes so cold that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere freezes onto the water ice in a layer around a metre thick. On the Southern cap this figure rises to around eight metres. I think this may seriously hinder the performance of the lander...

Also consider the orbital/trajectory requirements of landing a spacecraft at the poles, the fact that Phoenix is solar powered and that the topography of the ice caps isn't billiard ball smooth - making landing treacherous.

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