Saturday, June 21, 2008

Life on Mars? No Shit!

So, NASA was pretty sure there was ice on Mars. That's not news. That's how they knew where to plunk Phoenix Mars Lander down last month where it's supposed to run experiments including looking for signs of life in the ice.

But the fact that Phoenix dug and found white substance just below the surface is exiting. And now the ice seems to be 'melting.' This means Phoenix is in the right spot, and that it may be able to grab some ice, throw it into one of its eight ovens and analyze the heck out of it. If there are signs of life in the ice, we'll know soon, and that means there was/is life on Mars. And that changes everything, right?

Here are some quotes from a recent story in the Arizona Daily Star:

The thrill of Thursday's image comparison was that it verified that the lander had landed in the right spot, given that Phoenix's first mission is to "touch and examine water on Mars."

The proof was demonstrated to the Phoenix team at a briefing Thursday when image team leader Mark Lemmon, of Texas A&M University, showed them a "blink" comparison of photos taken that day and four Martian days previously.

Eight white spots that the scientists suspected were ice had disappeared in the second photograph.

Lemmon said his team now plans more continuous image monitoring of areas uncovered by the robot arm to watch for such changes.

Salt would not have disappeared, said Lemmon, nor would other elements. The conclusion was that it was ice that had "sublimated" — changed from solid to vapor without going through a liquid state.

"The big story," Lemmon said, is that the Phoenix Mars lander can now "reach out and touch" water on Mars.

Smith said one of the team's "great fears" was that it would find ice but be unable to reach the ice. But he is now convinced the lander is sitting on a huge shelf of ice that lies just a few centimeters beneath the soil.

As an aside, fellow blogger Voxmoose posted a fascinating entry about the experience he had at Cal Poly when Phoenix made its successful landing. It's as if he was 'there,' because he kind of was. Check it out here.

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