Martian sticky soil may hold signs of water

June 15th, 2008 - 4:58 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 15 (ANI): An unusually sticky soil has been found on Mars which scientists believe may hold the first ice to be collected from an alien world.

A space probe had been sent to search for signs of water on Mars when the soil samples were found.

The Phoenix Mars Lander, which touched down on just over three weeks ago, has also sent back the clearest pictures to date of the rust coloured arctic landscape of the Red Planet.

The images have revealed mysterious polygon shapes stretching into the distance, which scientists believe could have been caused by seasonal expansion and contraction of ice beneath the surface.

NASA also revealed that the lander has uncovered a bright layer around two inches beneath the surface of the soil, that could either be ice or salt, deposited on what may formerly have been the surface. If analysis proves that the substance is ice, it will be the first time that water has been conclusively shown to exist on the planet - raising the prospect that evidence of life will also be found.

Phoenix, which is named after the mythical bird, has been using an 8ft robotic arm to excavate two trenches down through the Martian soil and is expected to dig up to three feet down as part of its 150 day mission.

Although it is not clear what is causing the soil to clump together, scientists have speculated that ice or minerals in the soil could cause it to behave this way.

There’s something very unusual about this soil, from a place on Mars we’ve never been before,” the Telegraph quoted Peter Smith, Phoenix Principal Investigator of the mission from the University of Arizona, as saying.

“We’re interested in learning what sort of chemical and mineral activity has caused the particles to clump and stick together.

“Understanding the soil is a major goal of this mission and the soil is a bit different than we expected. There could be real discoveries to come as we analyze this soil with our various instruments, he added.

The soil is now being baked in an oven-like instrument before tests are carried out to discover its composition. (ANI)

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