NASAs new probe to search for ice on Mars in May 2008

December 29th, 2007 - 12:16 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 29 (ANI): NASAs new probe named Phoenix is all set to touch down on the unexplored north pole of Mars on May 25, 2008, in an attempt to find whether water exists on the Red Planet even today.

Launched in August 2007, Phoenix will land on Mars next year to scratch through the ground cover at the north pole and find what may be a thick layer of water ice beneath the frozen surface.

According to a report in Discovery News, the landing spot of the probe has been carefully selected and timed to coincide with the seasonal spring thaw.

“The first major discovery we think we’ll see is ice,” said Arvidson, a Phoenix co-investigator. After that, we don’t know what we’re going to find,” he added.

Phoenix will bake bits of Martian ice in tiny ovens to determine the isotopic composition of the water, information scientists can use to learn how recently the water was locked into the ground.

If the isotopic ratios are found to be similar to atmospheric composition, it would be surmised that the water was likely a fairly recent phenomenon in a geologic sense, a mere 100,000 years old or so.

On the other hand, if the ice samples show a disequilibrium with atmospheric measurements, then the water may be ancient, leftover remains of a long-vanished sea.

Either scenario, however, would reveal new details of Mars’ evolution.

“We’ve never actually sampled the ice. We’ve never been that far north,” the journal quoted Arvidson as saying.

Phoenix’s science instruments will also hunt for organic molecules in the ice and soil. Organics, like water, are believed to be key for life to evolve.

“We’re not going to have life or conditions suitable to have life unless we can make organic compounds and conserve them,” said Arvidson.

In addition to the Phoenix, NASA would also launch a sophisticated rover called Mars Science Laboratory in 2009. This rover will analyze rocks and soil for signs of organic matter and environmental conditions suitable for life.

Also, in 2008, NASA will select an atmospheric monitoring probe, which may be able to pinpoint areas on the planet’s surface that are emitting methane, a chemical, which on Earth, has strong associations with organic matter and life.

“We’re taking steps to efficiently explore this planet,” said Arvidson. “By the end of the next decade, we’ll have a much better understanding of the overall evolution of Mars and the role of water. If we’re lucky, we may have evidence of past life or life today,” he added. (ANI)

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