NASA says that the Phoenix lander's robotic arm delivered a soil sample to
its test instrument on Wednesday that was able to identify
water vapor when the soil sample was heated.
William Boynton from the University of Arizona, and lead scientist for the
thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer on said in a statement, "We have water.
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."
NASA reported in June that the Phoenix lander had discovered
ice crystals in the Martian soil, but the lander was unable to test the
soil sample with its instruments at the time. The mission extension will allow
NASA further exploration of the area where the ice sample was found. NASA
reports that the soil sample that held the ice was dug from a trench
approximately 2-inches deep.
The robotic arm reportedly hit a hard layer of frozen soil at that depth and
two previous attempts to sample the icy soil on days when the material was
fresh proved unsuccessful. Previous sampling efforts were unsuccessful because
the frozen soil was sticking to the inside of the lander's scoop.
NASA says that the material analyzed Wednesday had been exposed to air for
two days prior to being transferred to the lander's instruments for testing.
Allowing the soil to be exposed for two days let some of the water in the soil
vaporize, making the soil easier to handle.
Peter Smith from the University of Arizona and principal investigator for
the Phoenix said, "Mars is giving us some surprises. 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."
The Mars Phoenix lander touched
down in May for the start of its initial 90-day mission. DailyTech
reported in July that scientists said liquid
water once flowed freely on Mars. The claim that water once flowed freely
on Mars came after scientists used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to discover
large clay mineral deposits that scientists believe to have been created by
flowing water. NASA will also be using the extended mission to continue with
other types of experiments.