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Phoenix touches, tastes Martian water

world Updated: Aug 01, 2008 10:26 IST
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Scientists say that Mars has water and this is first time that it has been "touched and tasted."

Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, they say, have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample on Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapours produced by the heating of samples.

"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA).

"We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

With enticing results so far and the spacecraft in good shape, NASA also announced operational funding for the mission will extend through September 30. The original prime mission of three months ends in late August. The mission extension adds five weeks to the 90 days of the prime mission.

"Phoenix is healthy and the projections for solar power look good, so we want to take full advantage of having this resource in one of the most interesting locations on Mars," chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Michael Meyer, said.

The soil sample came from a trench approximately two inches deep. When the robotic arm first reached that depth, it hit a hard layer of frozen soil. Two attempts to deliver samples of icy soil on days when fresh material was exposed were foiled when the samples became stuck inside the scoop.

Most of the material in Wednesday's sample had been exposed to the air for two days, letting some of the water in the sample vapourise and making the soil easier to handle.