Saturday, May 31, 2008


You know, if you are going to send a probe all the way to Mars to land in the northern arctic region in the hopes of finding a layer of water ice beneath the surface, having your lander come down right smack dab on top of a patch of ice and dust it off with your thrusters as you land ain't a bad way to go.

"PHOENIX, Arizona (AP) -- Sharp new images received Saturday from the Phoenix lander largely convinced scientists that the spacecraft's thrusters had uncovered a large patch of ice just below the Martian surface, team members said.

On Saturday, scientists said that a more detailed image taken under the lander shows one of the craft's three legs sitting on coarse dirt and a large patch of what appears to be ice -- possibly 3 feet in diameter -- that apparently had been covered by a thin layer of dirt...

..."We were worried that it may be 30, 40, 50 centimeters deep, which would be a lot of work. Now we are fairly certain that we can easily get down to the ice table," said Peter Smith, a University of Arizona scientist who is the chief project investigator."

There are several important implications for this.

The chemical characteristics of the ice will tell researchers a lot about the possibility that Mars could have supported life in it's past, or even that extremeophile forms of life could exist there today.

The other important implication is the quantity of water ice. Subsurface ice can be broken down via electrolysis into oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen can be used for breathable air and recombined with the hydrogen in a different mixture to provide rocket fuel.

This means that future inhabitants of Mars (us) won't have to ship huge quantites of breathable air, drinkable water and rocket fuel to Mars. We can manufacture it there and live off the land.

This is very cool stuff.

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