June 23, 2008

We’ve Got Water On Mars, Let’s Find Life!

The Mars Lander’s mission on the fourth planet from the Sun is a dream come true for many scientists who have been trying for decades to prove that there is indeed water on Mars, and that where there’s water, there could be life.

NASA’s Phoenix lander recently discovered chunks of bright materials near the surface of the planet, which at a first glance appeared to be ice. Mission investigators were convinced: could it be anything else?

At the time, the answer would have been yes, as some feared those could have been in fact salt deposits. However, their complete disappearance in just days after they had been uncovered made it clear: it was water ice, as scientists confirmed last week.

Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson explained that their disappearance was a confirmation that the images sent by the Mars Lander depicted ice: “salt can’t do that.”

The phenomenon couldn’t be clearer, and sublimation (the transition from a solid phase to a gas phase with no intermediate liquid phase) is the key word here: scientists explained that the chunks of ice evaporated after coming in direct contact with the Martian atmosphere.

As Phoenix’s robotic arm continues its digging, preparing us for a possible encounter with another icy layer, the science team in charge of the mission has a lot to do. Finding water (in solid phase) on Mars is just one of the elements that could answer the big question: has life on Mars ever been possible?

With the help of the instruments onboard, scientists will try to establish through detailed analysis whether the environment below the surface of the planet is or has even been favorable to microbial life.

So far, Phoenix’s Mars mission gave hope to scientists and enthusiasts likewise in their mission to discover life somewhere in the Solar System.

The key evidence brought to light in the first month of the lander’s mission is a sign that Phoenix is on the right track, and that what some reject as pure wishful thinking could be in fact as close to reality as it gets: we’ve got water, let’s find life! [via efluxmeduia.com]

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